No move to ‘strengthen role of councillors’ despite recommendation

no move to strengthen role of councillors despite recommendation - No move to 'strengthen role of councillors' despite recommendation

Bristol’s mayor has not responded to a recommendation from a report that suggests strengthening the role of councillors would help address flaws in the mayoral model.

Marvin Rees is the city’s second directly elected mayor since the role was established in 2012. 

Researchers from Bristol’s universities found that having an elected mayor has made city leadership stronger and more visible, allowing more consistent decision-making and longer-term policy initiatives.

But “there is an over-concentration of power in the hands of a single leader”, and citizens and councillors report “a weaker capacity to represent communities and scrutinise and hold the elected mayor to account”, they wrote in their report from March.

The researchers recommended that the council:

  • strengthen the role of councillors so they are “influential players in the governance system”
  • give citizens more opportunities to participate more directly in decision-making, and 
  • improve public trust in local decision-making by improving public understanding of who is making decisions and when.

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The researchers from the Bristol University and the University of the West of England also advised the government to “devolve far more powers and fiscal autonomy” to local councils.

When asked how the council would respond to the recommendations, a spokesperson for Mr Rees made no mention of any moves to strengthen the role of councillors.

The anonymous spokesperson said the council would continue to lobby the government for “greater city devolution” and press ahead with existing plans to “improve decision-making and increase public engagement”.

The mayoral spokesperson said: “We are pleased to see the report confirming that having an elected mayor boosts the visibility of city leadership. There is no doubt that clearer visibility brings greater transparency and accountability.

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“These findings also show a desire for the role of mayor to have more devolved powers, and we will continue to lobby central Government for greater city devolution.

“We are committed to listening and engaging with citizens and in January full council adopted a motion to improve decision-making and increase public engagement by developing forms of deliberative democracy.”

“Deliberative democracy” is a way to get the public more involved in decisions about complex issues and can take the form of a Citizens’ Assembly, where members who are representative of the community are paid a stipend for their time.

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The response came as the council decided to bring back the role of chief executive after the Local Government Association told it to reinstate the position as “somewhere for the buck to stop”.

The role of top officer, scrapped three years ago, will report to the elected mayor.

The role of directly elected mayor was established following a public referendum in 2012.

Another referendum on the role would not be possible until 2022. However to trigger the referendum five per cent of the population – approximately 23,000 Bristol residents – were to sign a petition and the elected mayor would need to start the procedure.

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