View all news

Report points to impact of Mayoral governance in Bristol and reforms needed

George Ferguson, Bristol's directly elected mayor

Press release issued: 10 September 2015

Bristol’s Mayoral governance has led to the city being viewed more positively in Westminster, having better international awareness, and an increased visibility of city leadership, according to the findings of a study launched today [10 Sep 2015] at Bristol’s Old Council House.

‘The Impacts of Mayoral Governance in Bristol’ report provides an in-depth assessment of the mayoral model of governance and will be of interest to other UK cities contemplating whether or not to introduce a directly elected mayor.

Led by local democracy experts Professor Robin Hambleton from the University of the West of England and Dr David Sweeting from the University of Bristol, the project compared attitudes before Bristol’s mayor was elected in 2012 and two years on in 2014 by analysing the views of citizens and civic leaders through a combination of on-line surveys, focus groups and individual interviews.  

Their results revealed a significant 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.The team also foundthat the vision for the future of the city has strengthened. In 2012, 25 per cent of citizens felt ‘The leadership of the council has a vision for the city’, compared with 56 per cent in 2014.

However, the team’s findings revealed marked differences of view between people in the three realms of civic leadership – politicians, public servants, and community and business leaders. For example, councillors were found to tend to display more negative views about the mayoral model compared to those in the public managerial, professional, community and business realms.  A less positive view was offered by one councillor who said: “Increased visibility is not the be all and end all of leadership, and power is too concentrated around the mayor.”  While a respondent from the business community said: “We wanted someone who would not worry about what people thought of him and would love the city enough to do things that might not be popular.”

Professor Hambleton said: “The positives are balanced by an interesting insight into the way mayoral leadership is perceived by different socio-economic groups that we label ‘better-off Bristol’, ‘middle-income Bristol’ and ‘less well-off Bristol’.  Often, but not universally, those people living in the better off parts of the city showed an inclination to see the move to the mayoral model of governance, two years after the mayoral election, more positively than those living in the less well-off parts of the city.”

The researchers found concerns about the levels of representation of views within the city, trust in decision-making and the timeliness of decision-making.  Of these criteria the report suggests that there has not been much improvement.

Dr David Sweeting from Bristol’s School for Policy Studies commented: “While there clearly have been many improvements in people’s perceptions of leadership in the city, this has not yet extended to all aspects of the city’s governance. Outside the city, it is also interesting that the introduction of the mayoral model seems to have boosted the profile of Bristol, for example in Whitehall, and may people feel that Bristol is better represented at the national level than previously was the case.”

Professor Hambleton added: “This project may be the first before and after assessment of mayoral governance ever carried out. However, we want to stress that the study is about the mayoral model of governance and not an appraisal of the performance of the current Mayor of Bristol, George Ferguson.

“Our interest is both local and national.  We hope that this research can help those involved in reshaping the governance system of the City of Bristol.  In addition, we hope that this report can make a useful contribution to national policy and that it will be of interest to other cities in the UK now contemplating whether or not to introduce a mayoral form of governance.  We asked if having a directly elected mayor makes a difference and our research shows that it does.  It highlights the benefits the model brings to the city alongside lessons to be learned around potential disadvantages.”

The report identifies five strategic choices for the future that focus onhow to improve the quality of mayoral governance in the city over the next ten years. These include: exploring how to disperse some powers away from the mayoral office; the development of roles for all councillors; re-energising neighbourhood governance; inventing new ways of including more voices in urban governance; and creating an effective strategy for city region governance.

The Citywide Seminar held on 10 September 2015 is intended to assist leaders from the various realms of civic leadership start a process of reform. It will involve people from public, private, and voluntary sectors in the city, the authors of the report, Bristol City Council representatives, and Mayor Ferguson.

The research, which took place in close collaboration with Bristol City Council, was funded by the ESRC Impact Acceleration Account (IAA) and Bristol City Council.  The IAA is intended to enhance the impact of high-quality research.

Edit this page