Referendum: should we keep mayoral system?

December 21 2021

Bristol will go to the polls this year to decide whether to scrap the mayoral system after opposition councillors had a resounding victory in City Hall.
A majority of elected members of Bristol City Council backed a motion on December 7 to hold a legally binding second referendum.The referendum in May 2022 will offer Bristolians the choice of keeping an elected mayor or going back to the committee system of governance that was in place ten years ago before George Ferguson became the city’s first directly elected mayor in November 2012.
The debate, ahead of the decision to hold a referendum, heard claims from opposition councillors that the role of city mayor has ‘absolute power’ while the Labour group dismissed the motion and the debate as ‘navel gazing’.
Critics of the mayoral system say it has put too much power in the hands of one person and undermined the role of local councillors, whereas opponents of the committee system say decision-making was too slow and nothing got done.
The committee system saw full council appoint cross-party committees to make decisions on specific matters such as transport, but retain the power to set the annual budget and make other large decisions. A core executive of members of the majority party retained the right of veto.
The motion was brought by the Liberal Democrats with the support of the Green Party. After an impassioned debate, the motion passed with the support of almost all opposition members, with 41 votes in favour of holding a referendum next year against 24 votes from the Labour group.
Amanda Cameron, Local Democracy Reporter