George Ferguson sworn in as new mayor - and quickly makes his mark
BRISTOL'S new elected mayor has hit the ground running.
On his first day in office yesterday, George Ferguson axed recently-introduced charges for on-street parking on Sundays.
He also ordered the Council House renamed Bristol City Hall, to reflect that it belongs to the people of the city and not the council.
But as he was officially sworn in, the mayor also acknowledged he faces a tough task in cutting a deficit now believed to be £7 million bigger than reported only last week. And that could mean council tax rises as the authority tries to balance the books.
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Mr Ferguson told 400 guests at yesterday's ceremony at the Passenger Shed at Temple Meads that he found out about the increased deficit, which has risen from £25 million to £32m, in his first meeting with council officials after starting his new job at 9am. He said he knew "tough times" were ahead but would do his best to deliver essential services.
Mr Ferguson will get rid of charges for on-street parking in the city centre on Sundays just three weeks after the £1-an-hour charge was introduced.
He said: "I've heard the traffic management arguments but I firmly believe in doing everything we can to keep Sunday special and already it is clear that it would only raise peanuts a week, while penalising people coming into the city centre for leisure and shopping.
"It is a straight-forward decision – on-street parking is free from this coming Sunday and on every Sunday until I can be persuaded otherwise."
VIDEO: ON CAR PARKING CHARGES (ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW)
Mr Feguson also said that from next year he would be looking at "freeing parts of the city centre of traffic" on the first Sunday of the month, taking inspiration from Bristol's twin city of Bordeaux.
Mr Ferguson gave a 40-minute speech to the audience, which included his friends and family, councillors, council officers, community groups, representatives from other councils and some of the former mayor candidates.
Mr Ferguson received loud applause from the crowd when he said: "What is great about Bristol is we are our own place – we don't depend on London. We are a proud provincial city and we are independent."
He explained he had chosen to hold the ceremony at Brunel's Passenger Shed because he wanted to take inspiration from the great engineer.
The new mayor said he would work with Bristol's neighbouring authorities but added: "I have always said I wanted to make Bristol recognised in its own right, without having to mention Bath."
To big applause and cheers he said: "Bath may have the beauty but Bristol has the brawn."
Mr Ferguson said that in his former architects office at the Tobacco Factory he had a sign that read: "It's the people, stupid".
He said he would have the same sign in his new office at the renamed Bristol City Hall, which he changed from the Council House yesterday morning.
"This is the ultimate project – it's much more than architecture, it's about people," he added.
Mr Ferguson said that yesterday he had met with the four party leaders of the groups on the council – the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives, Labour and the Green Party.
After the ceremony he told The Post that he was still hoping to create a "rainbow cabinet", made up of councillors in proportion to the different parties' level of support in the mayoral election.
He said he thought this was a more "up to date" way to decide the make-up of his cabinet, which he thinks will be in place by early next week.
Before signing the official declaration of acceptance, Mr Ferguson said he wanted to take a personal oath.
He quoted the same oath once made by young men of Athens when they became citizens: "I shall not leave this city any less but rather greater than I found it."
He asked the audience to repeat the line with him.
He then signed the official declaration of acceptance of office, which read: "I, George Ferguson, having been elected to office of mayor of the city and county of Bristol, declare that I take that office upon myself and will duly and faithfully fulfil the duties of it according to the best of my judgement and ability."
Mr Ferguson has confirmed that he intends to take his mayoral salary in Bristol pounds, the new payment system introduced in September to encourage people to spend their money in the city.
VIDEO: ON WORKING WITH YOUNG PEOPLE
VIDEO: ON CELEBRATING OUR DIFFERENCES:
VIDEO: REACTION TO BUDGET NEWS: