Civic leadership in Bristol: what difference can a directly elected mayor make?

Issue date: 22 March 2013

Interim findings reveal opportunities for city leadership

The mayoral model of governance offers the opportunity to give a real boost to civic leadership in Bristol - according to the majority of respondents in an independent study of leadership in the city carried out just before the mayoral election last November. The findings from the study will be presented at a research launch event with the authors of the project and Mayor George Ferguson on Friday 22 March at the City Hall in Bristol.

It was widely felt that the introduction of a Directly Elected Mayor would drive improvements in public services, and that the mayoral model would also be more responsive to local people than the former 'leader and cabinet' model of governance. Nevertheless, many councillors were less optimistic about the prospects for improvement with the introduction of mayoral governance.

These are just some of the findings from an independent study carried out by local democracy experts at UWE Bristol and the University of Bristol. The study, which collected data ahead of the election of George Ferguson as Bristol's first Directly Elected Mayor, assessed the views of local people and local stakeholders in Bristol. The Bristol Civic Leadership Prospects Project, led by academics from the two local universities, with the support of Bristol City Council, is designed to be the first ever 'before' and 'after' study of the impact of the directly elected mayor form of urban governance.

The former system of 'leader and cabinet' is widely regarded as flawed in terms of visibility of the leader and effectiveness in decision-making. Respondents expected the mayoral system to enhance leadership across and beyond the city, but also indicated that there would be a need to identify mechanisms through which to guarantee transparency and scrutiny of decision-making, responsiveness to poorer neighbourhoods, and representation of marginalised groups. Finally, nearly three quarters of respondents considered it very important that the mayor wins resources for and promotes the city.

Researchers collected the views of Bristol residents, third sector organisations, the business community, local councillors, council officers and public servants. The surveys and workshops were designed to assess the hopes and fears about the mayoral model of governance.

Professor Robin Hambleton from UWE Bristol, who is leading the study, explained: “The study's findings provide a baseline from which to compare future perceptions of civic leadership in Bristol and they offer insights that could be useful to other cities or city regions contemplating moves towards a Directly Elected Mayor model, as well as to central government. We hope the report will be helpful to all those concerned to improve the governance of the city and the city region.”

Mayor George Ferguson said: "I am delighted that Bristol is a test-bed for mayoral governance. It is very good news that both our universities are working together on this civic leadership study, and it should prove an invaluable resource for other cities or city regions considering a move towards the directly elected mayor model. I look forward to further reports from The Bristol Civic Leadership Project.”

Dr David Sweeting, a Senior Lecturer in Urban Studies at the University of Bristol and one of the study's co-authors, added: “The research has unearthed valuable insights into attitudes towards the past system of urban governance in Bristol, and identified many ideas relating to the future prospects for governance led by a Directly Elected Mayor. We hope these findings will have a beneficial impact in helping to shape the mayor's role, and lead on to a real impact on the governance of the city.”

For a short interview with Professor Hambleton on the subject of directly elected mayors, click here.

Further information:


The study, entitled 'The Bristol Civic Leadership Project: The Prospects for Mayoral Governance in Bristol', by Robin Hambleton [Centre for Sustainable Planning and Environments, UWE Bristol], Joanna Howard, Alex Marsh and David Sweeting [School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol] is published today [Friday 22 March]. The full report will be available to download from the project website after 5pm on Friday 22 March at:

See link to Bristol Civic Leadership Prospects Projects


In a referendum, held on 3 May 2012, the citizens of Bristol voted in favour of a Directly Elected Mayor (DEM) to lead the city by a margin of around 5,100. The voters of Bristol, unlike those in other English cities, rejected the idea of sticking with the familiar model of urban governance, and opted for something entirely new. The subsequent election, held on 15 November 2012, attracted fifteen mayoral candidates, more than in any other mayoral election in England. George Ferguson, an Independent, was elected as Mayor of Bristol on 15 November 2012, commencing a new era of mayoral governance in Bristol.

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