Stand up and be counted: George Ferguson kick-starts Bristol mayor debate
ARCHITECT George Ferguson has kick-started the debate over an elected mayor for Bristol by becoming the first candidate to throw his hat into the ring for the post.
The former High Sheriff who founded the Tobacco Factory in Southville wants the issue to become a major talking point before a referendum on May 3 to decide if we should have an elected figurehead to run the city.
And he believes that if candidates "put their heads above the parapet" before the vote next month, then it will flag up the importance of changing the way in which the city council is run.
If the referendum decides in favour, then an elected mayor will be chosen at elections in November.
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Mr Ferguson, 65, co-founder of Bristol-based architects, Ferguson Mann, said: "I feel passionate about Bristol.
"It's a great city and I feel privileged to have learned, lived and worked here for over 45 years.
"I believe strongly in leaving it a better place than I found it – a place that our children and our grandchildren can be proud of.
"However this is not about me but about the urgent need for Bristol to wake up to the opportunities and the threats.
"I want to encourage strong competition for this vitally important role and I challenge others, some of whom I know are waiting in the wings or fear a backlash from their political leaders, to have the moral courage to declare now."
Mr Ferguson, who was the first Liberal councillor to be elected to Bristol City Council in the 1970s and unsuccessfully fought in two General Elections as a Liberal during the 1980s, would stand as an Independent.
He said he had not been actively engaged in politics for 25 years and believed that an Independent elected mayor would give "real hope" for a more united Bristol which was "freed of the petty party politics and instability that has plagued the city for decades".
Mr Ferguson flagged up that an elected mayor would draw more funding for the city from central Government.
He said: "The Prime Minister made it abundantly clear at a reception at No10 that we would be rewarded with more resources and local decision making if Bristol has stronger governance led by an elected Mayor who will be able to negotiate powers appropriate to the city, and to represent the city with the authority of being elected by the whole electorate. This is not bribery, as the 'No' lobby claim, but political reality – we have to face up to it.
"It is also clear that if we allow the current discredited system to continue we shall be left lagging behind those British cities who choose to go for city mayors and Bristol will never be able to realise its full potential. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity."
Mr Ferguson said if he was elected, he would want to tap into the vast range of talent and skills in the city which was too often unused or ignored, primarily because of local party politics.
He said: "If a person doesn't belong to the current ruling party they're ignored or rubbished. Secondly it's because there's a general tendency by the council to reject informed local opinion.
"We need visionary leadership strong enough to embrace outside opinion and strong enough to devolve power to the many and diverse communities in Bristol to put people more in control of their own destiny.
"We need a leader with extensive experience in the real world, someone who has not made politics their life. The very worst people to run a city are life-serving politicians. We need to refresh local government with a more visionary and entrepreneurial approach to running local affairs.
"By way of an example, if the Tobacco Factory had been a council project I bet it would have cost five times as much, lacked ambience and character and been a drain on the local economy.
"A No vote in this referendum would be a disaster, driven by the short-term political expediency of those in fear of losing power.
"But a Yes vote will be a vote for a greater city and a better future for our children. We owe it to them."