Policy unpacked #6 – Talking mayors at #pp2014

Policy Unpacked logoEarlier this week Bristol hosted the Policy & Politics Conference 2014. The conference theme was the challenges of leadership and collaboration in the 21st century. The conference examined governance structures at different spatial scales, but there was much talk about urban governance. [Read more…]

Policy Unpacked #1 – Mad about mayors

Policy Unpacked logoIn 2012 Elected mayors were very much on the political agenda in England. But after the largely negative outcome of last year’s referendums there was a debate over whether mayors are now off the agenda again. However, in 2013 the debate about mayoral governance seems to be as vibrant as ever.

In this podcast I discuss the debate over Elected mayors with my colleague David Sweeting. We touch on the debate at local, national and internal level. (Running time: 28′ 30″) [Read more…]

George Ferguson’s Vision for Bristol: A response

Picture of GeorgeLast night George Ferguson gave his first Mayoral State of the City address in the Great Hall of the Wills Memorial Building. This launched both the Mayor’s Vision for Bristol and the consultation on the local authority budget.

Following the Mayor’s presentation there were brief responses from Alexandra Jones from Centre for Cities, Tony Travers from LSE London, and me. We only had five minutes each. Below is the text to accompany my presentation. Delivery didn’t quite match the text because I was editing down to 5 minutes. You can listen to the whole event here for the next few days. As usual, I win the “who can talk the fastest” competition.


We are now marking the first anniversary of our first mayoral election. The occasion is provoking plenty of reflection. Not just locally, but also nationally and internationally.

When the city voted for a mayor in 2012 it was voting for a leader with greater visibility. It is fair to say that we have got one. George is much more high profile – in person, in the media, on Twitter – than previous Council Leaders. George may not yet have the name recognition of Boris … or Madonna … but he’s on the way. If electing a Mayor was primarily about moving to the era of city leader as celebrity then that is a task we can mark as largely complete.

But visibility was never an end in itself. It was a component of reconnecting city leadership with the people. It had the aim of increasing engagement with local politics and revitalising local democracy. It spoke of aspirations for more focused and consistent leadership. It spoke of breaking away from the deadlock and instability that were perceived to afflict city leadership under previous governance models.

Having voted to move to the elected mayor model there is now limited scope for changing to a different model of local government. So there is little point rehearsing old debates about whether it was the right decision. Now is the time to take stock of whether we are moving in the expected direction. [Read more…]

Towards a global parliament of mayors?

if-mayors-ruled-the-world-198x300How should a world characterised by increasingly complex interdependence be governed? If most of the major challenges we face have no respect for the artificial borders marking out nation states, how can we identify and deliver effective solutions?

The answer Benjamin Barber offered in his stimulating presentation at the Bristol Festival of Ideas on Monday night is that we need to look to cities. More specifically, we need to look to mayors. His case is in part rooted in the fact of an increasingly urban future. But it is also based upon the characteristics he identifies as distinctive to mayoral governance. This is an argument developed at greater length in his new book If mayors ruled the world: Dysfunctional nations, rising cities (Yale University Press).

Barber starts from the premise that we can no longer look to the nation state to find solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems. [Read more…]

On local governance and elected mayors

On Friday we published a report on the prospects for an elected mayor in Bristol. It is the first report from the Bristol Civic Leadership Project. The prospects report was based primarily on views collected from around Bristol prior to the mayoral election in November. It drew on the respondents to the Citizens’ Panel, a survey of civic leaders, and workshop discussions with stakeholders. The aim of the report was to set out a baseline of information on people’s expectations for the arrival of mayoral governance and, where possible, on the back of that evidence to draw some lessons about avoiding pitfalls associated with changing governance. It aimed to do no more nor less than that.

309064910_68b0c541deThe broad message of the report is that many people were not hugely positive about the performance of the city council under the Leader and Cabinet governance model used prior to the move to an elected mayor. Many were therefore positive about the prospects of the move to a mayor – they were expecting the governance change to have a positive impact on the governance of the city and on the city itself.

The main group who took a different stance were city councillors. Councillors tended to be more likely to be positive about the (then) existing model, and correspondingly more sceptical about the benefits of the arrival of an elected mayor.

I noticed that there was a bit of negative comment about this report on Twitter on Saturday. I thought it would be worth reflecting on some of that comment. [Read more…]

The future of local democracy

Participation in representative democratic processes at local level is on the wane. Not just in Britain but in several other western democracies. There is plenty of cause to reflect on why that might be, and what might be done about it. How can more local people become engaged in decision making about their area? Without change it is easy to envisage – without getting too apocalyptic about it – local government facing a crisis of legitimacy at some point in the not too distant future. Equally importantly, local government is facing unprecedented challenges. Citizens need to understand the dilemmas and competing demands. Wise leaders will draw on resources and ideas from across communities. More inclusive political processes are needed to achieve this.

Last week I chaired an event at the University of Bristol on The Future of Local Democracy as part of Thinking Futures, the Festival of Social Sciences and Law. The panel of four speakers engaged with a broad range of issues relating to the nature of local democracy, accountability, and representation. [Read more…]

Bristol votes for an elected mayor

[Originally posted on LSE British Politics and Policy, 08/05/12]

Bristol is unique. Those of us who live here are, of course, already aware of this. But the city’s less conventional approach to life attracted broader attention when it alone voted yes in last Thursday’s Mayoral referendum. Stuart Wilks-Heeg provides an overview of the outcome of this process. In short, it represents a major blow to David Cameron’s aspirations for a new era of dynamic city leadership. I want to reflect more specifically upon the Bristol result. Why did the city buck the trend? Clearly, what I have to say is to a large degree impressionistic. We will no doubt be offered more detailed post-mortems on the 2012 referendums in due course. [Read more…]

Why an Elected Mayor is a bad idea

On Wednesday 2nd May we are holding a couple of last minute briefings on the arguments for and against a Directly Elected Mayor for Bristol. For the purposes of the debate I am giving arguments against the move to a Mayor. For the avoidance of doubt, that doesn’t mean that I am personally against the idea of a Mayor. But someone had to put the arguments against! Here is the text accompanying what I am planning to say – or at least I’ll say as much of this as I can fit in to the time available!

One of the key things that I would like to get across is that it is important that people vote, and that they vote on the basis of which model of local government they think should be used. We face profound questions regarding how best to govern the city so that it realises its potential. It would be unfortunate if people used the referendum simply as a chance to vote against the Coalition government or the Liberal Democrats.

Arguing against an Elected Mayor [Read more…]

A last minute briefing on #bristolmayor

The debate over the desirability or otherwise of an Elected Mayor for Bristol is hotting up. Candidates for the role are now beginning to declare themselves, should the citizens of Bristol vote to move to the mayoral model.

Events to discuss the issues are now occurring pretty much every week.

The day of reckoning is nearly upon us.

[Read more…]

The Elected Mayor solution

Elected Mayors are, apparently, the answer for our big cities. The Coalition has decreed that on 3rd May the citizens of Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Coventry, Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield, Nottingham and Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Wakefield be invited to participate in a referendum. The choice is whether they stick with the current model of local government or switch to a Directly Elected Mayor. Liverpool and Leicester have already committed to the Elected Mayor model without a referendum, as has Salford. But if Elected Mayors are the solution, then what is the problem? [Read more…]