The leader of Bristol City Council has attacked plans for an elected mayor in the city, saying a vocal minority could impose their views on a “palpably apathetic” electorate.
Barbara Janke released her views in a document yesterday outlining her opposition to an elected mayor for Bristol.
A referendum is due in the summer, in which Bristol voters will be asked if they want a directly elected mayor, as those in London are able to do.
The plans are part of the coalition government’s plans to improve accountability in cities across the UK.
Last September, the Institute for Government called for directly elected mayors to be given more powers over planning and policing, as well as the power of veto over the appointment of chief executives.
People in Bristol, along with those in Birmingham and Leeds, will be the first of 12 cities across the UK to vote in a referendum next May to decide whether to have elected mayors.
Cities minister Greg Clark launched a consultation, aimed at establishing how “mayors can enhance the governance, provide strong and accountable democratic local leadership, while enhancing the prestige of our largest cities”.
Labour peer Lord Adonis, director of the Institute for Government, said in a letter to the government about the Localism Bill last year that the system of governance in Bristol was “working particularly badly”.
This stung Ms Janke into denouncing the “airily offensive remark”. Now she has set out her opposition to the plans in full.
She said yesterday: “Most people in local government surely support a localist agenda. They do not come into politics to surrender powers to Whitehall. But the Coalition government’s avowed support for localism is not always matched by its practice. This is clearly the case with elected mayors.
“There can be no doubt that most members of the public are uninterested and the subject switches them off. It does, though, provoke strong feelings in some circles and most politicians have a view one way or the other.
“The Centre for Cities report acknowledges that mayors will only really work well if the government gives them enhanced powers. My feeling is that this is the nub of it. It is the enhanced powers we want – not an unnecessary change in the present system of governance.
“In fact, there is a very strong case for retaining the present system and voting against the idea of an elected mayor. The electorate is palpably apathetic and there is a real danger of having elected mayors imposed onBristol by a tiny minority of enthusiasts if the referendum turnout is low enough.”
Ms Janke went on to add that the cost of a referendum and first election for a mayor would cost the city £1.5million – the cost of which to the city is “not warranted”.
Bristol’s Conservatives are the only one of the four main political parties to actively support the idea, while the Labour Party said last year that “the people should decide”. The Green Party have not actively supported the idea, either.