Bristol stands alone as only city to vote for an elected mayor
THE search begins today for Bristol's first elected mayor.
They will be a powerful figurehead to run the city because they will be chosen by the people they serve.
The seismic shift in the city's political landscape follows a 'yes' vote in the referendum which saw the historic result declared yesterday.
Although the turnout in Thursday's poll was low at 24 per cent, the result was clear and decisive – people in Bristol want a sea change in the way the city is run.
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Bristol was the only one of ten cities offered the chance to have a directly-elected mayor for the first time to vote in favour, as Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield, Wakefield, Coventry, Leeds and Bradford all said 'no'.
The 'yes' result means the clock is now ticking towards an election on November 15 to decide who the elected mayor will be.
They must not only have a clear vision for the city's future but know how local government works, understand business and economics and bang the drum for Bristol on the national and international stage.
The momentous referendum result which was declared at Ashton Gate showed 41,032 in favour and 35,880 against.
Afterwards, Liberal Democrat cabinet councillor Tim Kent, one of the leading 'no' campaigners, was gracious in defeat.
He said: "What we have seen by this referendum is democracy in action. We put forward reasons why we were opposed to the idea of an elected mayor but people have made a choice and we accept that. I just hope that an elected mayor will sort out the issues which are facing the city."
Tory leader Peter Abraham was cock-a-hoop at the result.
He said: "Admittedly, it was a low turnout but the size of the majority is very decisive. The people of Bristol have made it clear that they wanted something different in the way the city is governed."
No campaigner Bill Martin, a former Lord Mayor and Labour councillor, said the result was a bad day for Bristol.
He said: "It puts too much power into the hands of one person and if we don't like them, we are saddled with them."
The current Lord Mayor, Geoff Gollop, said: "I have no problem with the idea of an elected mayor at all. The role of Lord Mayor would continue whether we had an elected mayor or not."
While the elected mayor would have the power to make decisions and run the city, the Lord Mayor is a ceremonial post, elected by councillors, and represents the city at major events, as well as chairing full council meetings.
Former council leader Helen Holland, a Labour councillor who is in favour of an elected mayor, said: "I think this is going to bring some stability to the city. Their term of office will be four years, which will give them a clear run to take the city forward."
The city has seen the council leadership change several times during the past ten years and local elections are held virtually every year to decide a third of the city's 70 wards, which prevents any chance of continuity.
Another former council leader, Lib Dem councillor Steve Comer, had campaigned against an elected mayor.
He said one of his concerns was that the person might decide to review many of the decisions which have already been taken, which could lead to many projects – such as a rapid transit system for the city – falling by the wayside.
He said: "If they start to review everything, we could see the Government taking its funding elsewhere and we will be left with nothing."
Bristol West Lib Dem MP Stephen Williams said: "I think it is going to mean that Bristol is going to be much more powerful – the region is already the most prosperous outside London and Edinburgh and we need someone who is going to move the city forward."
Bristol North West MP Charlotte Leslie, who had championed the idea of a mayor but reiterated that she would not be standing for the job, appealed to the city's business chiefs to put themselves forward, saying the candidate should be "someone who doesn't carry party politics with them".
Bristol East Labour MP Kerry McCarthy, who was initially lukewarm over the mayoral plans, said she had warmed to the idea, hoping the city would now get a "figurehead".
She said: "I was ambivalent, but as time went on, I thought that while a mayor isn't necessarily the right solution for everywhere, Bristol really needed a sense of purpose and something to shake it up a bit."
Peter Hammond, leader of Bristol's Labour councillors, said: "However individuals may have voted there is a real and widespread feeling that 'things cannot go on like this any longer', as Bristol faces up to the recession and the inability of the council's present administration to move Bristol and its communities forward."
Architect George Ferguson, who declared himself as a candidate two weeks' ago, said: "This shows that Bristol has really thought through this issue."
Green Councillor Tess Green said: "This is very disappointing, both in terms of the turnout and the result because we believe democracy has been weakened by this vote in favour."
James Durie, director of Bristol Chamber of Commerce, said: "This should provide the city with the strong leadership it needs.
"A mayor will allow us to negotiate a deal with the Government that should concentrate on infrastructure and have a key impact on Bristol as a place to live and work. We now need strong candidates to come forward."
Property consultant Ned Cussen said: "This is great news for Bristol as it gives business in the city a go-to person and provides a single clear voice with Government.
"A mayor will give us a real step-up because clearly the Government wants this to succeed."
Elsewhere in the country, Doncaster voted in favour of keeping its elected mayor. Liverpool and Salford both held mayoral elections. Liverpool had agreed to the move without a referendum and Salford held one in January.