Bristol's mayor to be one of most powerful figures in Britain
BRISTOL is close to sealing a deal with the government for a major transfer of power from Whitehall, a ministers has said.
Greg Clark told The Post the new City Deal would probably be in place before the new elected mayor takes office in November.
He also claimed the mayor would be "one of the most powerful political figures in the country", who would go down in the city's history.
Last month Bristol was the only one of 10 cities to vote in favour of ditching the current council setup in favour of an elected mayor.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Our heavyweight cards have FREE UV silk coating, FREE next day delivery & VAT included. Choose from 1000's of pre-designed templates or upload your own artwork. Orders dispatched within 24hrs.
Terms: Visit our site for more products: Business Cards, Compliment Slips, Letterheads, Leaflets, Postcards, Posters & much more. All items are free next day delivery. www.myprint-247.co.uk
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Sunday, June 30 2013
Mr Clark, the Cities Minister, promised a "continuous transfer" of power to the new mayor once they are elected, saying public transport would be "top of the list".
But he quashed hopes that the mayor vote and city deal would lead to extra government cash for Bristol, saying: "None of this is about grants from central government."
There would be "billions of pounds of potential" from new borrowing powers and financial freedoms to drive investment, he said.
"This isn't an application for government funding, it's about taking powers from central government to the city authorities to address particular means of achieving their economic potential," said Mr Clark.
Bristol would become the third city, after Liverpool and Manchester, to seal a city deal with the government.
Council and business leaders have submitted a case to Whitehall, setting out which powers they want to take on.
Mr Clark said he would not reveal what these were while negotiations are taking place.
He said: "Even before the election, I would hope that we could negotiate the transfer of powers to Bristol."
Asked whether it would be better to wait until the elected mayor is in post, he added: "The deal that has been put forward is, I think, demonstrably in the interests of Bristol.
"Any Bristolian, I am sure, would want to see greater powers for Bristol."
There has been some confusion about whether elected mayors were needed in order for city deals to be struck.
Yesterday Mr Clark told the Post that Bristol had "passed the test" by voting Yes, giving it stable leadership. – even though other cities, like Manchester, had not needed a mayor.
When the mayor takes office, Mr Clark insisted nothing was off the table in terms of extra powers.
Some transfers would be possible without an Act of Parliament, he said.
The minister agreed that Bristol's public transport network was a "very big issue".
He said: "I would expect that it would be top of the list of any mayor of Bristol. From my point of view, I would encourage it."
The Department for Transport was "very keen" for control over local matters to be devolved, he said.
And he was cool on the idea that Bristol's mayor could eventually be given a remit covering the three neighbouring local authorities of South Gloucestershire, North Somerset and Bath & North East Somerset, which some campaigners say is needed to solve the region's transport problems.
Mr Clark said: "In Bristol, I suspect, people will want to see how it works. If in the future there was an approach to vary the arrangements, it would be considered at the time."
Mr Clark, who said Bristol had been a "well-kept secret", said the new mayor would raise the city's profile.
He insisted the government's policy of forcing cities to hold a referendum had not been a failure, despite only Bristol voting Yes to introducing the post last month.
He pointed to Liverpool and Leicester, where council leaders chose to adopt a mayor without a public vote, and said: "The mould has been broken."
Mr Clark also said that David Cameron's promise of a "cabinet of mayors" meeting would be honoured, despite the low take-up.
The mayors of the three cities will be invited to Downing Street, with the Prime Minister chairing the first meeting. After that they will decide how to get together, he said.
Despite the Yes vote, the government refuses to budge in the row with Bristol City Council over the official referendum leaflet, Mr Clark said.
Ministers refused to cover the costs, saying it had not presented a balanced case.
Asked for a message for the future mayor, he said: "The new mayor of Bristol is going to be a figure of historic significance to the city, and remembered for centuries to come.
"The importance of the responsibility will not be lost on any of the candidates.
"I look forward to working very closely with the new mayor, as will the Prime Minister, to help Bristol reach its absolutely extraordinary potential."