Bristol City mayoral system ditched in Referendum

(The City Mayor is distinct from the regional Metro Mayor covering Bristol, Bath and North East Somerset and South Gloucestershire)

Bristol has voted to scrap the mayoral system. Polling stations closed across Bristol yesterday (May 5) in a referendum to decide the system of local government which will run the city for the next ten years at least.

Max Channon, Tristan Cork, Ellie Kendall, Beth Cruse

While much of the rest of the country hold local council elections – where people get to vote for councillors and representatives to elect them to positions of power in their council chambers – there was a different kind of vote happening in Bristol.

The city elected its city councillors and mayors last May – so this time it wa a referendum on the system of local government itself.

People who did make it to the polling stations were faced with one simple question: should the City of Bristol retain its current system – where a Mayor of Bristol runs the city council – or change to a different way, called the ‘committee system’, where the 70 councillors are organised into committees at City Hall and they run the council instead.

The referendum vote was called last year after a combination of Green Party, Lib Dem and Conservative councillors voted to have it. In May 2021’s elections, even though Labour Mayor Marvin Rees was re-elected for a second term in office, Labour lost their majority of councillors in the council chamber, with the Green Party now having just as many councillors as Labour, for the first time ever.

Mary Page of the Scrap the Mayor campaign reacts after Bristol votes to ditch the ditch the Mayoral system

It’s not the first time such a referendum has been held. Back in 2012, Bristol was the only city in the country to vote in favour of having a directly-elected mayor run its local authority, and later that year George Ferguson was elected as mayor – followed by Marvin Rees in 2016.

The legislation that created that role included a break clause – that if councillors voted for it, after ten years, the question of which system people want could be put back to the voters in a second referendum.

If the vote is for a change to a committee system, it won’t take effect immediately, and won’t instantly remove Marvin Rees from office. The change wouldn’t happen until May 2024 – in two years’ time – when Mr Rees said he intends to stand down anyway.

And the vote will not impact on Bristol’s other directly-elected mayor, either. Since the 2012 creation of the City Mayor for Bristol, the Government created another mayor position – the regional Metro Mayor, who covers Bristol, Bath and North East Somerset and South Gloucestershire. Since last May that has been Labour’s Dan Norris, whose position won’t change whatever is decided today.

‘The mayoral model has proven a disaster for Bristol’

Councillor Mark Weston, leader of the Conservative group, said: “The mayoral model has proven a disaster for Bristol – too much power at the whim of one individual. The public have rejected this unaccountable model of government. We now need all parties to work together to bring in a more conciliatory form of politics to Bristol.”

05:59Max Channon

Lib Dems hail spirit of cross-party working

Councillor Jos Clark, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said: “The Bristol Liberal Democrat group brought the motion for this referendum to full council in December last year and in the spirit of cross-party working were happy to let the Green Party second the motion.

“This is a good example of working together for the good of our city and we look forward to more collaboration in future and under a fairer system.”

‘Tonight’s vote marks a new chapter in the way our city is run’

After Bristol voted to scrap its elected mayor and run the council with a committee system, Green group leader Heather Mack said: “The outcome of tonight’s vote marks a new chapter in the way our city is run. For many years now, important decisions affecting the whole of our city have been made behind closed doors by just one person whom the public and elected councillors cannot easily challenge.”