Study reveals what difference Bristol's elected mayor has made to the city

Issue date: 13 March 2015

Having a directly elected mayor in Bristol has led to a dramatic increase in the visibility of leadership in the city, according to the latest results from a 'before and after' study of the impact the role has had on urban governance.

The Bristol Civic Leadership Project, led by local democracy experts at the University of Bristol and the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), assessed the perceptions of the public and of civic leaders towards the mayoral model of governance. By working with stakeholders it aims to influence policy in this area.

Findings revealed the introduction of a directly elected mayor resulted in a dramatic increase in the visibility of city leadership. In 2012, before the introduction of the mayor, 24 per cent of citizens thought the city had visible leadership. After the introduction of the mayor, in 2014, 69 per cent agreed. This increase was also evident in the responses from civic leaders from the community, voluntary and business sectors. Twenty-five per cent agreed that Bristol had visible leadership in 2012, compared with 97 per cent in 2014.

Councillors tend to be less positive than other groups about the introduction of the mayor. While 54 per cent of citizens and around 78 per cent of public managers and leaders from the business, community and voluntary sectors agreed that the introduction of the mayoral system had ensured the interests of Bristol are better represented, only 33 per of councillors agreed.

Councillors also tended to think the new system of governance is much more 'closed' that the previous one. Only 19 per cent agreed with the statement 'there are many opportunities to get involved in decision-making in important affairs in the city' after the election of a mayor, compared to 61 per cent before the mayor was in post. In contrast, the views of civic leaders from the community, voluntary and business sectors increased from 36 per cent in 2012 to 53 per cent in 2014.

The team found there were differences of views when people were asked whether they 'trust the council to make good decisions'. Councillors perceived a decline in trust with only 16 per cent agreeing with the statement in 2014, compared to 44 per cent in 2012. Citizens tended to note little difference, who responded with 19 per cent in 2012 and 23 per cent in 2014.

Overall 33 per cent say a mayor has improved public confidence in decision-making but there are differences across the city. In the least deprived areas, 39 per cent agree with the statement compared to only 25 per cent in the most disadvantaged areas.

Dr David Sweeting, Senior Lecturer in Urban Studies at the University of Bristol, and co-author of the policy briefing, said: “The initial findings of this study highlight many major plus points for the mayoral model in the city with evidence showing its introduction has undoubtedly changed the way people think about the governance of the city. However, the challenge for policy makers, locally and nationally, will be to make the mayoral system function more effectively in years to come by building on the perceived strengths and taking action to address perceived flaws.”

Professor Robin Hambleton, Professor of City Leadership at UWE Bristol, also co-author of the policy briefing, added: “The idea of introducing directly elected mayors to lead cities is an international trend that is clearly on the rise. Our study of the introduction of the mayoral model of governance in Bristol is the first 'before and after' study of the mayoral model of governance carried out anywhere in the wold. It provides many insights on the strengths and weaknesses of the mayoral model and we hope that it will be of interest to cities - and citizens - in the UK and elsewhere.”

Findings of the study will be published in a policy briefing document launched at a Mayoral leadership – insights from innovation in urban England event at the Institute for Government on Friday 13 March 2015.

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