A Bristol Mayor for Democracy?

Guest blog from David Gould, Bristol for Democracy Chair

We deserve a fair vote in all elections. The 2015 general election was the "most disproportionate in British history", and local council elections consistently give even more disproportionate results. The West of England Devolution deal will have huge impact on Bristol.  We need to know what the next Mayor is going to do to stand up for democracy

Bristol for Democracy and Unlock Democracy have teamed up to ask all the candidates for Bristol Mayor their views on local and national democracy. We asked them:

  •  What is your position on the West of England Devolution deal and holding a West of England Mayor accountable?
  • What will you do to promote devolution of the power of your Mayoral Office to the people of Bristol?
  • And finally do you support proportional representation for local and/or national elections?

What did the candidates say?

Thank you for you questions, I have answered as best I can given the limited information available about the Regional Mayor.

I am in favour of Devolved powers, however I am not convinced that a West of England Mayor is the way to deliver them.

It is about time our local representatives started to tell us the whole truth about this deal and not just the bits that they think will win votes, the deal that is on the table might well be the only deal on offer, but it is far from being a good deal.
With Devolved powers come devolved areas of financial responsibility, what that means is that services that are currently the responsibility of central government and funded, or more accurately under funded by central government, will become the responsibility of local government to manage and fund.
Also, the billion £’s investment sounds good, until you realise that it will come over an extended period of time averaging a little over £30 million a year for the region, when all four authorities involved are having budgets cut, BCC alone to the tune of £30 million a year, it does not work out to be a good financial deal.
But it might well be the deal we have to go with, if so we will need a Regional Mayor strong enough and willing enough to continue to fight for a better deal at the highest level.

My understanding is that the Regional Mayor would be, in effect, the chairperson of a committee comprising of one representative from each authority giving a total of five people, so ideas can be brought to the table by anyone and decisions made based on a majority vote. This would appear to be a sensible way to go and could keep the Mayor in check.
It also needs to be made very clear what the Mayor can and cannot do, as an example, the Mayor must not be allowed to create a Limited company with public funds where the accounts can be kept from public view and scrutiny.
We also need to see a much better level of communication and engagement with the people from the Mayor. Open, honest and transparent leadership will be essential.

I would very much like to see more decision making powers going to local people through Neighbourhood Partnership Programmes and similar, however with this comes the danger that a small minority, not representative of the local community, could take over the decision making process, so with this we would need to make sure that more people get involved.
I like the idea of using social media to give people the opportunity to have a say.

Generally I do support proportional representation for local and/or national elections however it might well make it very difficult for Independent representatives to stand.
— Paul Turner UKIP Mayoral candidate for Bristol 2016

Thank you for contacting our office about the devolution deal. We are proud that George Ferguson has managed to work effectively with neighbouring local authorities to secure a £1bn devolution deal. This new deal will mean that we have a real say about how transport, skills and education is delivered for our region. It means more power and decision making for Bristol and less control from Westminster. It will ultimately mean people in Bristol and our neighbouring local authorities will have a much greater say in what policy is delivered locally. Some politicians want to play politics with this offering but frankly this deal is the best one available and we should not let £1bn leave the region.

It has taken many years to get here and it has required independent leadership to deliver it. Previously, leaders in Bristol often preferred to engage in party politics and were focussed on the next election rather than securing a good deal for Bristol.

This deal is an exciting opportunity for Bristol. It does come with a Metro Mayor and we are supportive of this because only politicians know boundaries. Somebody with strategic overview of the four local authorities means we can make long-term plans to develop the correct transport infrastructure and harness our economic potential. It seems ludicrous that parts of South Gloucestershire aren’t part of Bristol and the delays this currently means for development. George has ruled himself out of the role of Metro Mayor. He’s in this for Bristol and plans to serve one more term and deliver on his promises.

And finally, George shares the powers of Mayor of Bristol with his rainbow cabinet, and has never gone against their majority opinion. He very much believes in consultation and want to work even more closely with Neighbourhood Partnerships and all sectors of the city from the voluntary to the business community. He also believes in proportional representation.
— George Ferguson Bristol First Mayoral candidate for Bristol

What is your position on the West of England Devolution deal and holding a West of England Mayor accountable?

I do not support the imposition of yet another elected Mayor for Bristol as part of a city-region. The money and powers to be devolved by central government are very tempting but it is proving difficult to get agreement from all the councils involved. There has been no consultation or voting on this by local people and under current plans the voice of the people is completely excluded.

I will fight at national level for devolution of power over housing, transport and infrastructure through combined working by local councils without such another layer of government. In addition I would also pursue the option of a second referendum in Bristol gained by the Liberal Democrats through persistent lobbying as to whether Bristolians actually want to continue with the current system of an elected Mayor for Bristol itself.

If the government continues with the West of England devolution deal as it stands and another Mayor is imposed, it is vital that all decisions are transparent and accountable with full disclosure of personal interests and for all financial transactions to be shown to local government standards as embodied in national guidelines.

What will you do to promote devolution of the power of your Mayoral Office to the people of Bristol?

As Mayor I will choose a cabinet from all parties to represent all parts of the city. I will share power with them in a democratic way. This has worked well in other cities such as Watford but has not happened in Bristol to date. At present elected councillors have little power. In addition I would support Neighbourhood Partnerships to become more involved with local people and local community organisations to better represent residents.

I would also pursue the option to bring forward a referendum to let Bristolians decide on the future of the Mayoral post if it can be demonstrated that there is sufficient support for a second referendum.

And finally do you support proportional representation for local and/or national elections?

YES, I support proportional representation for all elections.
— Kay Barnard Liberal Democrat candidate for Mayor of Bristol

Thank you for your email, a copy of which I have received from many others, and I am pleased to answer your questions in turn:

1 I entirely support the west of England devolution deal and welcome the £1 billion investment in the region that will accompany the deal.
2 I am currently a Councillor on Bristol CC and have been very frustrated by the current Mayor being able to overrule the seventy democratically elected representatives of the people of Bristol. I have therefore committed myself, if elected, to introduce a Council veto where 75% of Councillors can block any Mayoral decision and make the Mayor reconsider. This will give the people of Bristol the chance to hold the Mayor to account through their democratically elected representatives.
3 I do not support proportional representation.
— Charles Lucas Conservative Party candidate for Mayor of Bristol

I’m opposed to the idea of Metro mayors as I am with the system of having a directly elected mayor for Bristol. I think it centralises the power in one person’s hands too much which has the potential to be abused. Currently a mayor can pass a budget with the support of just one third of councillors. In the case of a West of England mayor this would take a lot of decision making futher away from the local areas and for people in the surrounding authorities would probably be seen as too Bristol dominated. I think the government’s plans on devolution are not about improving democracy but about devolving responsibility for making cuts and giving a few individuals a lot of power to push those through in the face of local opposition.

I think within the mayoral system however we can still have more or less democracy depending on how it is applied. I think we need to move away from the methods of rule by decree that exist under the current mayor. The arrogant way in which residents’ parking has been pushed on people in areas where it is clearly not wanted is an example of this.

One thing I would do if elected is only take the average wage of a worker in Bristol, not the hugely inflated mayoral salary. I’m fed up of hearing politicians crying crocodile tears over the “tough decisions” they’re making on budget cuts when those decisions are tough on us and not them. I don’t think you’re able to represent people properly if your lifestyle is so removed from theirs and the decisions that you make do not affect you as they affect most of your constituents.

As I explain later on in my email a central part of our programme is the idea of a budget that takes as its starting point the needs of Bristol. I could not be so arrogant as to think that I know what all those needs are, no one person could. If elected one of the first things I would do is bring together a conference that includes unions for council staff, service user groups, equalities groups, neighbourhood partnerships, anti-cuts campaigners, etc in order to draw up firm plans for spending in the city. I think this active involvement of people in the running of the city is more democratic than leaving them without a say between now and the next elections in 2020.

We do support a form of proportional representation being brought in for both local and national elections. The proportion of people voting for the ‘main’ parties has fallen fairly consistently and I think PR would be more democratic and better reflect people’s views.

Whatever the form that local government takes however, I think the biggest challenge it faces is providing all the services that people need. I think that will be impossible if we stick within the austerity agenda that is being pushed by the government. The funding that Bristol receives has been cut massively and those cuts have been passed on by the current mayor and his cross-party cabinet. We’ve had over £100m cut under this administration from services including care, libraries and many more. If I was elected I would move a budget based on the needs of the city, not on the demands for cuts from George Osborne. We would then need to build a mass campaign that could force the government to return the money that’s been taken from local authorities, just as they were forced into a U-turn on the latest round of disability benefit cuts.
— Tom Baldwin Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition candidate for Mayor of Bristol

Thank you for getting in touch to raise your concerns about democracy in our city. It’s great to hear from people all over Bristol.

The Devolution Deal potentially very exciting news for the whole of the Bristol city-region area, giving us access to funding that could mean real progress on building the twenty-first century infrastructure we so desperately need.

The announcement is testament to the work that has gone on over many years, building relationships across the four authorities. However, I am concerned that the Chancellor wants to impose a metro Mayor on the region. It should be up to local people what democratic arrangements we choose.

Promises of passing power down the M4 from London to the West of England will only work though if local people feel more engaged in decision-making, and that new arrangements are transparent and accountable.

Each of the four local authorities will have to agree these new arrangements at their Council meetings in June, and we will do all we can to ensure that debate is as wide as possible, giving everyone the chance to influence the future of our area for the next twenty years. Labour is pushing for a referendum so that local people can have their say – however we expect the Government to block our efforts. A referendum on this issue would ensure that there is a greater degree of democracy and accountability over this proposal.

I believe it is important that the voices of communities and local people are heard during the decision making process. This is why I have made a number of manifesto pledges that will call for local councillors to work with Neighbourhood Partnerships and community organisations to ensure that our policies work for local people, and that we are democratically accountable for them.

As a candidate for Mayor of Bristol, it is important that I listen to people from all sections of our community. If you have any further questions or concerns, it’s important to me that I hear from you, so please feel free to get in touch with any concerns that you may have.
— Marvin Rees Labour's candidate for Mayor of Bristol

This is the 2nd Mayoral election I have ran, and I have always said being a God fearing person, I have always wanted to make central government politics, simplify it, I.e. red tape. I would like to run as mayor with morals and principals. If the central government wants to bring in these new policy’s and these new people, to govern the south west? I am being honest with you, I do not have a lot of experience with central governments’ policy’s. My heart would love to select people in the city, to advise the city, so we can take our next step, but my plans for the future, if elected is to start with free education and see if I can turn Bristol into a city for the people! If central government wants to bring ion someone to govern the entire south west, yes I would campaign against it, because I believe the city belongs to the people, but I will run to see if I can protect the city, and keep it in the peoples hands. I would like to take the power away from MP’s and counsellors, and make them answerable to the people that elects them! My personal opinion I would like to see, a body of people who are independent, from the influence of MP’S and counsellors. I would like Bristol’s future to be governed, by independent people within local communities.
— Tony Britt, Independent Candidate for Mayor of Bristol

Who hasn't responded

Dyer Tony Green Party

We want to include the independent candidates Paul Saville, Christine Townsend, Stoney Garnett, Festus Kudehinbu and John Langley. If you have their mayoral campaign email address please email them to team[@]unlockdemocracy.org