City takes a new direction
Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees at the referendum count, which resulted in a decision to axe his role
The city council’s Labour group has promised to help make the committee system work after last month's momentous referendum result to scrap Bristol’s mayor.
Residents voted by 59 per cent to 41 per cent to abolish the position from 2024 and instead give groups of councillors the power to make decisions.
A cross-party working group is now being set up to thrash out the details, with main opposition Green group leader Cllr Heather Mack saying there had been an encouraging start as representatives from different parties were already agreeing on most issues.
Labour and Greens each have 24 councillors on Bristol City Council but under the mayoral model, current office holder Marvin Rees has sole say on cabinet positions and has filled them all with members of his own Labour party.
The referendum was triggered when a legally binding Lib Dem motion backed by the Greens, received support from the other opposition groups – the Conservatives and Knowle Community Party – at a full council meeting in December, while Labour voted against.
That response along party lines was mirrored in the campaign ahead of the city-wide poll on Thursday, May 5.
The result means the political groups now have two years to work together with officers and other experts to determine the new system where full council will continue to set the budget and make some major decisions while delegating most other powers to committees, such as housing, education and adult social care.
Cllr Steve Pearce, leader of the Labour group, which wanted to retain the mayoral model arguing that the committee system removed the public’s right to vote for their city’s leader, said: “However, we recognise and accept the result. We’re of course disappointed by it, but we have a duty to make the committee system work.
“We’re setting up a cross-party working group to draft a new, committee-based constitution, where we hope to have constructive conversations with other parties.
“We may be reverting to an old form of governance, but this doesn’t mean we’ll undo the progress we’ve made. We have a mandate to lead the city until 2024 and we’ll carry on with the job we were elected to do.
“We’re building an unprecedented number of affordable homes, including the largest council housing scheme in a generation, are investing massively in clean energy and are on track to be net zero by 2030 – among many other things.
“This result won’t be a distraction from our work to deliver on Bristolians’ priorities.”
After the vote was announced in the early hours of May 6, Mr Rees said the referendum was a “distraction” from the myriad crises facing the city but that it would not stop his administration continuing to deliver on its goals.
He denied that the result was a reflection on his leadership because he had already said he would be stepping down at the end of his second term, which he will see out until 2024, and that he hoped his fears about the committee system would not be realised.
Cllr Mack, for the Green Party, told BBC1’s Politics West on Sunday May 8: “I have already reached out to the other party group leaders and we are finding loads to collaborate on, loads to agree on already, so this is a step towards that more collaborative and more democratic way of working in Bristol.”
Asked how concerns would be overcome about the committee set-up creating logjams in decision making, she said: “It’s about being able to work together. I spoke to the other party group leaders within 12 hours of the result and we found more to collaborate on and more to agree on than we had before.
“This is already helping us along the way. I really feel that taking more time and making really good decisions for the city is far more important than making quick decisions that are the wrong decisions, such as the arena.
“It will be about working with other parties. We want to get the city moving. There are transport issues across the city, we want better sustainable transport, we want people to get around.
“We also want to seriously and speedily respond to the climate emergency. We are not doing that, we are not on track for 2030 carbon neutrality and we really need to get moving.”
By Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporting Service