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The Relaxation Centre

Tony Dyer: The Wrong Trousers… Why I say No to this badly tailored Mayor

The proposal Mayor system is the wrong size, the Elected Mayoral trousers that Bristol is being sold are not tailored to fit the real economic city

Elected Mayor trousers

The topic of how Bristol should be governed is generating interest among some at the moment. However I suspect that, despite my best efforts, many of my wider family will not vote in the referendum on May 3.

They are simply not interested – they are more worried about their jobs and their household bills as they seek to survive the economic “recovery”. They are certainly not obsessed by what colour trousers a mayor might wear as some appear to be.

I won’t be voting either. In my case not by choice but because a Mayor for Bristol will only cover the boundaries of Bristol as last changed almost 50 years ago, not the real boundaries of Bristol as an economic entity in the 21st century.

As a result, despite being born, bred and educated in Bristol, and travelling to work in the city just like tens of thousands of other “outsiders” every day (while similar numbers of “insiders” travel the other way), I will not get a vote, nor if there is a Yes vote, will I get a vote in an ensuing election.

Perversely, however, I will be able to run for Mayor if I chose to do so!

This brings me to why I have joined the No campaign. For a start the proposal Mayor system is the wrong size, the Elected Mayoral trousers that Bristol is being sold are not tailored to fit the real economic city. Instead it is based on Local Authority lines last redrawn by a nameless bureaucrat in 1966, the last of 10 boundary changes as the city gradually expanded from the Corporation created in the Victorian era.

It will fail to include major residential expansions in places like Bradley Stoke and Portishead, it will exclude the aerospace industry at Filton and the future redevelopment of Filton Airfield, the Science Park at Emerson’s Green, the port facilities at Royal Portbury, the retail facilities at Cribbs Causeway, the key rail transport hub at Parkway, the list goes on.

If we want 21st-century governance we need it to cover the 21st-century city, not some artefact from a different era half a century ago. The transport problems that damage Bristol don’t end at some dotted line on a map, and the solutions won’t either. Vague promises from government that this wider governance “might” happen at some point in the future IF it is asked for and IF you vote for the flawed version now, simply doesn’t cut it.

Almost every example of a Mayor system anywhere in the world appears to have been wheeled out to demonstrate why the very specific model proposed for Bristol will work despite each having crucial differences.

For example, Barcelona has been used repeatedly in pro-Mayor circles to demonstrate how a directly elected mayor can have a major effect on improving city performance. This is despite the fact that Barcelona’s mayor is selected from a list provided by the political party that gets the most votes in the proportional representation system used in Barcelona.

Another element of Barcelona’s governance that tends to be overlooked by pro-Mayor supporters is its system of decentralisation. Barcelona is divided into Districts, governed by District Councils responsible for making decisions affecting those districts. For many living within Barcelona, it is this implementation of real localism rather than the false “do as we say” localism like that being handed down by London, that has contributed to the city’s success.

The Mayoral system being proposed for Bristol makes no reference to decentralisation of this nature. Instead it looks to hand down control from London on condition that Bristol centralises its local decision-making into the hands of one individual. Centralisation disguised as decentralisation.

Many pro-Mayor supporters applaud this, welcoming the ability of an elected mayor to “get things done”. This ability to “get things done” could well mean that a Labour mayor in 2008 would have been able to push through Labour’s Parks and Green Spaces Strategy forcing the sell-off of green spaces across the city with only 50% of the revenues going back into improving the surviving green spaces.

A Liberal Democrat mayor would have been able to push through the building of a Bus Rapid Transit Route along the Bristol to Bath Railway Path, one of the most popular pedestrian and cycling routes in the country.

A Conservative mayor would have been able to push through even deeper cuts to public services – especially if they had implemented Councillor Abraham’s idea of halving the number of councillors, meaning that only the support of 12 councillors would be needed to force through any budget cuts.

Arguably, what is needed in Bristol is not somebody with the power to push through proposals regardless of their merits but the development of more efficient and effective evidence-based cross-party scrutiny to ensure higher quality decision making in the first place, rather than shoddy ill-thought out proposals that generate opposition and waste time and money. Fire prevention is always cheaper than fire fighting, and far less damaging.

An alternative view for why cities elsewhere in the world are generally more successful than in England is because they are not nannied by the centre in the same way that London imposes itself on cities like Bristol and Newcastle. Britain is the most centralised state in the world after New Zealand. London cannot stop itself telling Bristol how to run itself, instead of getting out of the way and letting Bristolians get on with it. This is nanny-state localism!

However, attempts to expand the debate to look at what type of local decision-making powers a city like Bristol needs to emulate cities like Copenhagen, Barcelona, Frankfurt and Malmo, with or without an elected mayor, are often dismissed as “not being an option on the table”. This is despite the relevant legislation making it clear that City Deals regarding decision-making powers and structures are indeed separate from the decision to choose to have an elected mayor.

The reality is that Bristolians are being asked to vote for a system that even some of its most vocal supporters know is not the solution that Bristol really needs, and to run an election for candidates that have largely failed to identify themselves, who will have powers as yet unknown, with no easy route to undo the process if Bristolians find they have made a mistake.

That is not democratic decision making – this is akin to betting on a horse race without knowing the horse and riders or even what course they will be running on. A bookie might take the shirt off your back but the government wants your trousers too! Whatever colour they might be.

Tony Dyer is a Green Party member of the Bristol Says No campaign

21 Responses to Tony Dyer: The Wrong Trousers… Why I say No to this badly tailored Mayor
  1. redlandrider
    September 16, 2012 | 9:56 pm

    I've forgotten now how I did vote. I think it was yes, but can't be certain.

    I looked at the reasons for voting for a mayor, the most compelling of which was that Jon Rogers and Tim Kent were against it. Then I looked at the arguments for voting against a mayor, the most compelling of which was that David Cameron was in favour. This is why I can't remember.

    I'm glad we have a mayor now, because it gives us one of only two things can can stop the stupid £49 million BRT2 route from being built. The other is the traditional incompetence of Bristol City Council in delivering infrastructure projects.

  2. arry
    April 24, 2012 | 12:11 pm

    This debate is full of lies and misrepresentations.

    Anyone saying than an elected dictator means greater democracy does not understand the word "democracy".

    We need to be encouraging new grass roots politicians to become councillors in place of the disgraced party system. Instead, we are creating a system where the only ones realistically who can be elected are those with huge financial backing and the "charisma" of a politician (all lies and misrepresentations).

    Vote NO – not in my city

  3. Harry Hunt
    April 24, 2012 | 9:36 am

    I asked you for the source for the £88,000 that you say an Elected Mayor will be paid.

    Where does this figure come from?

  4. Tony Dyer
    April 21, 2012 | 12:11 pm

    3. Are you really suggesting that the levels of scrutiny under a mayoral system will improve, whilst at the same time most of the rest of the Pro-mayor side of the debate are insisting that electing a Mayor will improve the ability "to get things done"? I doubt that electing a mayor will improve scrutiny and is more likely to weaken it in the face of the "personal mandate" a leader will have to push "pet projects" through.

    I believe that Mark Bradshaw and Helen Holland were both amongst the "heavyweight" Labour politicians that signed the pro-Mayor letter to the press so, despite your criticisms, you apparently agree with them too.

  5. wood5y
    April 21, 2012 | 11:55 am

    As far as most people are concerned, £88,000 per annum is still an inflated salary.

  6. Tony Dyer
    April 21, 2012 | 9:09 am

    Sorry Jaya, but this quite simply an untrue statement.

    Bristol City Council have been talking to the government for some time discussing what powers Bristol needs. I find it difficult to understand how you are not aware of this, as the fact that this dialogue was taking place was explained in an Evening Post article to which you contributed a quote;
    http://www.thisisbristol.co.uk/Liverpool-s-pound-

    I am told that the next meeting is this coming week.

    You refer to Liverpool and Birmingham but forget to mention Manchester which has already concluded its City Deal without deciding to go for a Mayor.

  7. Tony Dyer
    April 21, 2012 | 8:56 am

    You say that the election (I presume you mean referendum?) should not be about something its not – and then say people should vote Yes if they are in favour of a mayor in principle.
    But the referendum is not about a mayor in principle – it is about a mayor in practice, a mayor that will only cover the boundaries of Bristol City Council, a mayor who may or may not reduce their costs by getting rid of the chief executive, a mayor who may or may not get some additional powers and some additional funding, additional powers and additional funding that may or may not come to the city anyway because this will be negotiated through City Deals separate from the decision on whether to have an elected mayor. So those who are in favour of a mayor in principle and want to have a say over what a mayor in practice will look like should vote No – in my opinion.
    I think you have inadvertently identified one of the key errors made by some in the Yes campaign. They are in love with the principle of a mayor rather than the looking at the practicalities of what Bristol is being offered.

  8. bristolwestpaul
    April 20, 2012 | 11:05 pm

    So a No would leave us with a system where out of a population of 317,000 adults, 18 councillors elected by as few as 25,000 voters can select the council leader. I agree that there are issues of accountability which need to be settled but I think we need to be able to look beyond the 70 people elected to serve their local communities to people who seek election because they want to serve the whole city and for whom the whole city has an opportunity to choose. While there are many good councillors in all 4 parties on the council, it is too limited a pool of talent from which to select the leader of our council. The structure and success or otherwise of Barcelona is interesting but not relevant I want to have a say in who leads bristol without having to be a local councillor.

    • Tony Dyer
      April 21, 2012 | 12:22 pm

      While a Yes would leave us with a system whereby, judging on average turnouts on previous Mayoral elections and a reasonable number of candidates, just 10,000 votes could return a candidate who had previously shown no interest in giving up some of their spare time to serve the city, who could then, following a series of deals behind closed doors, fill up the cabinet with councillors who will now owe their positions of responsibility to him (and it seems it will almost certainly be a him).

      We can all dream up imaginary scenarios, Paul.

      As an experienced former councillor, how many times over the years has the scenario you depict actually happened?

      • Rob, Crews Hole
        April 23, 2012 | 2:21 pm

        The current mayor of Doncaster was elected having got 16,961 1st choice votes out of an electorate of 215,632 There were 7 candidates and the turnout was 35.8%

        The full Doncaster results are here http://tinyurl.com/77rflkp

        • Harry Hunt
          April 23, 2012 | 4:06 pm

          So, he got elected by less then 8% of the electorate then?

          Thought Mayors will supposed to lead to greater democratic engagement?

  9. Charlie Bolton
    April 20, 2012 | 7:07 pm

    I have to agree Jon Rogers/Gary Hopkins re the railway path. To be fair Paul Smith also opposed it.

  10. Paul BemmyDown
    April 20, 2012 | 4:43 pm

    We are not all politicians, political activists, or people with vested interests, so how about somebody explaining to the rest of us, what powers any elected Mayor would have. Nobody would be expected to vote for a political party at an election without them having a manifesto, so what is different here? Tell us what the Mayor can do to alter our everyday lives and we can then make a reasoned decision. Untill then, vote no.

  11. Mark Bradshaw
    April 20, 2012 | 11:43 am

    I have a copy of the 2005 briefing paper for your colleague Dennis Brown agreeing to the Bristol-Bath cyclepath BRT route option to be investigated as viable!

  12. Rob Telford
    April 20, 2012 | 11:04 am

    Top article that explains clearly why we are being sold a pup…and yet people may vote for it because they believe it represents progress.

    Putting more power into the hands of one person is ALWAYS a backward step.

  13. arry
    April 20, 2012 | 10:32 am

    I do not want to elect a dictator.

    I do not want to elect a dictator first, let the government see if they like who is selected and then find out what powers they get from that government

    I do not want an election for a dictator when all the business lobby is funding the "yes" campaign and talking about "progress" in the city, when we know they mean building on green spaces.

  14. Chris
    April 20, 2012 | 10:13 am

    If Tony says no, I say yes.

  15. Chris
    April 20, 2012 | 9:33 am

    Yeah, they will find a government "ready to negotiate," so long as we do exactly what they want!

  16. jayacg
    April 20, 2012 | 9:04 am

    A quote from the economist article Darren posted: "Mr Clark expects most to demand more powers, over transport, housing and so on—just as London’s mayors have grabbed powers over policing and planning. They will find a government “ready to negotiate”."

    The full article is here: http://www.economist.com/blogs/bagehot/2012/04/el

  17. gary hopkins
    April 20, 2012 | 8:42 am

    Excellent article Tony but must back Jon up as I seconded that ammendment and had the discussions with Charlie.Could not help but notice as I flicked through the minutes that Jon put the link to the incinerator that Cllr Bradshaw was trying to build being questioned..
    Would that issue have come out differently with a different system of governence?

    • Mark Bradshaw
      April 20, 2012 | 11:41 am

      I see Gary still struggles with his spinchecker

      Facts: Bristol to Bath cyclepath BRT route option devised by Libdems 2005, cancelled by Labour 2007/8. Mass burn incineration – accepted as an option by Libdems 2006; ruled out by Labour 2007/8. Stop airbrushing Gary. What about your current and very real BRT plans to damage the Chocolate Path?

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