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Elected mayor led to ‘dramatic increase’ in governance visibility, study shows

Elected mayor led to ‘dramatic increase’ in governance visibility, study shows

🕔16.Mar 2015

Two years of having an elected mayor has boosted Bristol’s governance credentials with a “dramatic increase” in the visibility of city leadership, according to an academic study.

Although in Bristol as in Birmingham most city councillors remain fiercely opposed to the mayoral model, the system has huge support among businesses, the voluntary sector and community groups.

A survey by the Bristol Civic Leadership Project, a partnership between the Universities of Bristol and the West of England, questioned citizens and civic leaders, and workshops and focus groups from inside and outside local government, both in Bristol and nationally.

The main findings were:

  • The introduction of the mayoral model has resulted in a dramatic increase in the visibility of city leadership. In 2012 24 per cent of citizens thought the city had visible leadership, whereas in 2014 this figure leapt to 69 per cent.
  • Leaders from the community, voluntary and business sectors are even more positive. Some 25 per cent thought that the city had visible leadership in 2012, a figure that soared to 97 per cent in 2014. Even councillors, many of whom remain opposed to the mayoral model, recognise that the model has increased the visibility of the city leader.

The study found the mayoral model led to a more broadly recognised vision for the city.

In 2012, 25 per cent of citizens agreed with the statement: ‘The leadership of the council has a vision for the city’, compared with 56 per cent in 2014. Civic leaders from the community, voluntary and business sectors are even more positive about this shift, with agreement jumping from 33 per cent to 75 per cent between surveys.

After the introduction of mayoral governance, 54 per cent of citizens agreed that a directly elected mayor had improved the leadership of the city while 76 per cent of civic leaders in the community, voluntary and business sectors felt that leadership had improved.

In contrast, only 31 per cent of councillors thought that leadership had improved with a directly elected mayor.

Bristol now enjoys more access to influential figures in central government, the study found.

The Mayor has been afforded multiple meetings with the Prime Minister, with Greg Clark MP, Cities Minister and with other ministers.

Last week, on an visit to Birmingham, Arts Council England chair Sir Peter Bazalgette highlighted the influential role that mayors such as those in Bristol, Liverpool and Leicester play in terms of cultural leadership.

In addition, the mayor has undertaken many international visits and, in 2014, was named by the BBC as the country’s most well-travelled mayor. One of the most significant visits was to the ‘Remaking Cities Congress’ in Pittsburgh in October 2013, where the mayor was the only civic leader outside North America to be invited to speak.

However, most councillors feel cut off from decision making.

Only 19 per cent agreed after the introduction of mayoral governance that ‘there are many opportunities to get involved in decision making in important affairs in the city’, compared to 61 per cent beforehand.

In contrast, the proportion of civic leaders from the community, voluntary and business sectors who believe that there are many opportunities for involvement jumped from 36 per cent in 2012 to 53 per cent in 2014.

Public managers employed by the council and other public agencies believe that the mayoral model makes it clearer who is responsible for making decisions. In 2012 some 42% thought the pre-mayoral model delivered clarity while the equivalent figure for 2014 was, at 64%, a considerable step up.

Bristol introduced a directly elected mayor in November 2012, and elected an independent candidate, George Ferguson, to lead the city.

The Warwick Commission on Elected Mayors and City Leadership concluded in 2012

Directly elected mayors offer the possibility of greater visibility, accountability and coordinative leadership as well as re-enchanting the body politic, and much of this derives from their relative independence from party discipline through their direct mandate and through their four year term.

Several cities, including Bristol, Leicester, Liverpool, and London already have directly elected mayors. Manchester plans to introduce a ‘metro mayor’ in 2017, with the prospect of other cities to follow.

Birmingham rejected moving to an elected mayor at a referendum in 2012 with 58 per cent voting no and 42 per cent yes on a 27.6 per cent turnout.

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