'A pivotal moment in Bristol's history' - Lord Heseltine
COMMENT: The Rt Hon Lord Heseltine:
BRISTOL has always been one of our great cities, yet, over decades, that greatness has been eroded and what remains is a city which has yet to fulfil its potential.
What Bristol needs is direction, vision and passion, three things that are all too often lacking in local government in England. The time has come to look to Bristol's future, not its past.
On May 3, voters in Bristol will have the chance to change the way their city is governed. If they vote in favour, power will be placed in the hands of the people, rather than the politicians. Instead of councillors choosing one of their own to run the city, the people of Bristol will make that choice.
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This is a potentially pivotal moment. Not only will city leadership be in your hands, but it will begin to stem the flow of local power away from our great cities.
The erosion of local control has happened over time and perhaps without people realising it. However, the likes of Alex Salmond and Boris Johnson are helping to restore power to Scotland and London respectively. Everyone knows who they are, they know what they are fighting for and no opportunity is missed to lobby for the interests of their constituents.
An elected mayor for Bristol has the potential to do the same for this city.
Last month, the Prime Minister announced that directly elected mayors will have a seat at the top table.
A new 'mayors cabinet' will be established, bringing together city mayors, giving the best access to government and the first choice of funding streams and regeneration initiatives. Liverpool has already booked its seat around that table, with elections for a new mayor being held on the same day as Bristol decides whether or not to go down that route. Birmingham and Leeds look set to join them. Surely Bristol deserves to be there too?
This is more than just a seat at the table, though. This is about securing Bristol's future, ensuring improvements in services, economic growth, more and better jobs.
Industrial wealth, entrepreneurial flair and economic power was not a London monopoly in our industrial heyday, and nor should it be now.
There is now an opportunity for our great cities, like Bristol, to fight back against the centralist tendencies and carve out their own path to prosperity.
The people of Bristol – not councillors or MPs, but every single registered voter – will be given the chance to vote "yes" and elect a powerful mayor to spearhead the city's renaissance. If they vote yes, and I hope they will, candidates will come forward ahead of an election in November. To win such an election, candidates would have to spell out what they intend to achieve for their city. They will be held to account for delivering it.
Gone will be the days when leaders emerge from behind closed doors where party groups make the decision. Everyone will know who they are and what they stand for. Direct election of this sort would put Britain into line with standard practice across North America and Europe.
I am very aware that councillors do not like these changes. I do not wish to be involved in criticism of the performance of councillors. It is not their fault that central government has taken away so much of their power and every day prescribes and defines what they are able to do. There are battalions of people in Whitehall working out how to plan a new housing estate in Lawrence Weston or a transport bypass in Avonmouth, but what there is not anywhere in Whitehall are meetings to discuss the wider interests of Bristol.
What nobody in London does is meet to ask what Bristol could achieve if it could make more of its own decisions.
We need leaders elected locally to bring together the strengths of the public and the private sector, to restore something of that huge energy and drive that made the cities what they were in the first place, to fight for local interests, to be identified as a recognisable local champion and to have the influence and respect associated with elected city mayors across the world.
The old council system with their endless committees and subservience to Whitehall is no answer to the challenges of today.
I hope, therefore, that on May 3 the citizens of Bristol will take a first big step to regain a greater share in our own destiny. I hope you will help turn the slogan "re-balancing Britain" into a political reality by voting yes for Bristol.