UWE Bristol local leadership expert joins debate on elected mayor for the city

Issue date: 28 November 2011

Bristol Ideas Forum, Watershed Bristol, 2 December 2011

UWE Bristol local leadership expert, Professor Robin Hambleton is taking part in a debate at the Watershed on 2 December that will include a panel of well known speakers, including the former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, to consider the question, 'Should Bristol have an elected Mayor?'

Professor Hambleton has spent much of his academic life examining how local leadership can have a significant impact on the performance of local governance – on the public perception of a place, on the level of civic engagement in public affairs and on the quality of local public services. He is an expert on city leadership, urban management and innovation in local governance, and has carried out research on local democracy in many different countries.

Traditionally, mayors in the UK are elected from within the council body – they usually chair council meetings and play a largely ceremonial role in local affairs. Since 2000, some English local authorities have introduced directly elected mayors to provide strong outgoing civic leadership. For example, Ken Livingstone provided highly visible leadership to London, as has the current directly elected mayor – Boris Johnson.

Professor Hambleton says that the Localism Act, passed into law earlier this month, offers new opportunities for the development of mayoral leadership in England. It enables the 12 biggest cities in the UK, including Bristol, to hold referenda about city leadership.

“There is an opportunity, here, to lift the quality of debate about the future of local democracy in England. In my last position, as Dean of the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois at Chicago, I learnt directly about the way a strong, directly elected mayor makes a significant difference to the governance of a city. Mayor Daley was not just highly visible – you know who the leader of Chicago is as soon as you land at O'Hare Airport. He was enormously influential both within and beyond the boundaries of his city because of the power vested in his office.

“There are two things facing the conference on 2 December that I am keen to address. One of these concerns the need to bring about a radical decentralisation of power in British society. At present we have one of the most centralised states in the western world, and this is holding back local communities. Too much of the time, Minsters are trying to run everything from Whitehall. The Localism Act does not go anywhere near far enough in decentralising power. Introducing directly elected mayors without a massive shift in power to local government will mean that the new mayors merely become puppets of the central state.

“However, decentralising power is not enough. It is right that the government is encouraging a rethink in the way we design our governmental institutions. The introduction of directly elected mayors should be given active consideration because it could strengthen local leadership. First, direct election gives mayors great legitimacy – not just to project the city externally but also to take tough strategic decisions. Second, direct election can enhance the visibility of city leadership – inspiring individuals can enthuse local people, community organisations and businesses. Third, directly elected mayors have the authority to make decisions – they can act very quickly if necessary”.

Prof Hambleton will join the panel of speakers at the Bristol Ideas Forum that will contribute to the annual Bristol Festival of Ideas held in May.

Andrew Kelly, Director of the Festival of Ideas, said, “ We have a fantastic panel and we are very excited about the ideas that this debate will generate – these are all key opinion formers and we expect the discussions to be both forward looking and imaginative. We want the debate at our Ideas Forum to stimulate wider discussion about the elected mayor issue so that when the time comes to vote people will be ready to make an informed decision about whether to have a directly elected mayor – or not.”

Half the tickets for the event are free of charge to people in the city who wish to contribute to the debate. Booking details are at: http://www.ideasfestival.co.uk/?p=1993


Editor's notes:

Professor Robin Hambleton is in the Centre for Sustainable Planning and Environments, Department of Planning and Architecture, Faculty of Environment and Technology, UWE.

Bristol Ideas Forum – 'Should Bristol have an elected Mayor?' Watershed Bristol, 2 December 2011. Speakers include:

Lord Andrew Adonis, Institute for Government on the Future Leadership Needs of the City

Joanna Averley, Director, Centre for Cities on Elected Mayors and Economic Development

Sir Steve Bullock, Mayor of Lewisham, on How Mayors Work in London

Professor Robin Hambleton, University of the West of England on Place-based Leadership in a Globalising World

Ken Livingstone on the Difference a Mayor can make

Ben Rogers, Centre for London on London Mayors and the Development of the City

Three panels bring together Bristol's political leaders, MPs, and business and community leaders:

Bristol Councillors Panel: Peter Abraham, Tess Green, Peter Hammond and Barbara Janke

Business and Community Panel: Marti Burgess, Jaya Chakrabati, Colin Skellett

MPs Panel: Charlotte Leslie, Kerry McCarthy, Stephen Williams

Bristol Festival of Ideas takes place annually in May with special events through the year. The events take place in venues across Bristol city centre. Over 170 events are organised annually, making Bristol one of the key centres for discussion and debate in the UK. Further details are available at: www.ideasfestival.co.uk. The festival also organises the Ideas Book Prize – worth £7,000 – awarded annually to the book which presents new, important and challenging ideas, and which is engaging, accessible and rigorously argued.

Bristol Ideas Forum is a new initiative of the Bristol Festival of Ideas. Each year a conference and associated programme will bring together local, national and international expertise to address an issue facing the city.

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