'Bristol will prove policy was not a failure'
DEPUTY Prime Minister Nick Clegg has insisted the government's elected mayor policy was not a failure – despite only Bristol wanting one.
The Liberal Democrat leader said his party would be fighting to avoid losing control of the city council in November's vote.
In an interview with The Post at the Lib Dem party conference in Brighton, Mr Clegg also called on Bristol to "exploit to the hilt" transport powers awarded under its new £1-billion city deal with the government.
And he made a furious defence of government's flagship fund for local businesses after criticism that cash was not reaching the front line.
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Ministers had promised a revolution in the way England's cities are run when they announced nine referendums on whether to ditch current council set-ups in favour of an elected mayor.
But voters in eight of them said no. The Lib Dems were never believed to be enthusiastic about the elected mayor model, and now face a battle to avoid losing political control of Bristol in November's vote.
Mr Clegg said: "I don't think one can call a democratic vote a failure – it was a democratic decision in my city of Sheffield and elsewhere not to have a mayor." He said there were "outstanding" Lib Dem mayors elsewhere in the country, adding: "I would love to see a Liberal Democrat mayor.
"It's not my choice, it's the choice of the people of Bristol and we're going to fight very hard in the run-up to that mayoral vote."
A wealth of improvements to Bristol's transport network have been promised by the new city deal, struck between the council, business chiefs and government ministers.
Mr Clegg, who is expected to visit Bristol during the mayoral election campaign, said the government planned to launch a "second wave" of city deals, which would eventually become "the norm, rather than the exception".
Earlier this month, the Post revealed concerns about the multimillion pound Regional Growth Fund, set up to replace the South West Regional Development Agency as a mechanism for funding regeneration and jobs growth.
In Bristol and the surrounding areas, a £40 million infrastructure fund has been set up to be given to local projects – but a committee of MPs warned recently that the whole process was taking too long, with too much money being spent on admin fees.
Mr Clegg, who has championed the Regional Growth Fund as a way to boost growth outside London, said delays had been caused by the need to properly check funding awards, adding: "If we simply splashed the money around, we would quite rightly be condemned."