Bristol Mayoral Referendum 2022: Election to be held in city to decide if position kept or scrapped

  • As Bristol prepares to go to the polls on Thursday to decide the future direction of the city council's leadership, Richard Payne has been speaking to those on both sides of the argument.

They say a week’s a long time in politics, so what’s 10 years?

It’s the length of time Bristol has had a directly-voted Mayor, but could that be about to change?

Once again, Bristol is at the centre of a struggle for power. At stake, its very leadership in which direction the city will take for years, maybe decades to come.

We've been here before, of course. In 2012, Bristol was the only city amongst 10 to vote to have a Mayor. Six months later, independent George Ferguson was promoted to power.

He was replaced by Marvin Rees four years later and he won a second term - delayed by covid - last year. He's said he will stand down in 2024.

What voters are deciding is whether his replacement is another mayor or a council leader, appointed by councillors in City Hall.

The Choice

A Mayor would continue to be elected directly by the public every four years and carry the ultimate say on the city's priorities.

Fans of the Mayoral system say it's more visible and effective. Opponents that it puts too much power in the hands of one person.

The alternative is a series of committees on issues including education, transport and social care, made up of some of the 70 ward councillors, also elected by the public every four years.

Committee system supporters argue its more democratic, critics that only councillors would appoint a leader and political in-fighting would slow decision making.

What They Say

Perhaps unsurprisingly Marvin Rees supports the status quo, telling ITV News: "The Mayoral system was up for judgement last summer. There was an election and two of the candidates ran on a 'Scrap The Mayor' (campaign) and didn't do very well.

"I don't think people are rolling around thinking about the structures of Bristol City Council decision-making, they're thinking 'how am I going to put food on the table' and that is what is exercising us.

"It's not about me because I'm not running again. I am suggesting in the face of all those challenges the best model of governance Bristol can have is the mayoral one because it supports the city to make decisions in public."

George Ferguson made history as Bristol's first directly-elected mayor when he stood as an independent, introducing Residents' Parking Zones, fronting Bristol's successful Green Capital bid in 2015 and championed an indoor arena for the city centre.

But he now says the role is redundant because there is a West of England Metro Mayor. He says he would have stood for that position instead had it existed at the time because it has more financial support from government and has greater influence on a wider region.

"I won't regret the fact we had one and I'm proud of some of things I did but I do think it's an absolute game changer that we do have a West of England Mayor," said Ferguson. "We have a much more balanced council (Labour and the Green Party each hold 23 seats) which should be represented in the decision making.

"Look at Manchester, I hate to say it but Manchester's standing is far bigger than Bristol. The regional mayor (there) has made a huge difference, he's like the prime minster of the north. I think it's confusing and slightly demeaning to the metro mayor to have a competing city mayor."

So which system will win?

That's for the voters to decide, of course. In 2012, 24% of those eligible voted, choosing a Mayoral system by a 53% to 47% majority.

Polling is from 7am to 10pm on Thursday, May 5 before counting takes place overnight with a result expected in the early hours of Friday, May 6.


If you have questions about how to vote in this election contact the City Council: