The Bristol City Office – what’s it all about?

Tessa Coombes - PhD student in Social Policy, University of Bristol

Tessa Coombes – PhD student in Social Policy, University of Bristol

Last Thursday saw the launch of the Bristol City Office, an idea that has been six years in the making. It’s an idea that seeks to address some of the challenges faced by the public sector, with ever decreasing budgets and reducing powers. It’s about partnership and collaborative governance, bringing organisations, individuals and budgets together to tackle the issues that we have failed to tackle before, where collaboration and joint working are essential, alongside the willingness to be creative and innovative. But why will this approach work when other attempts have failed and how is this different?

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Bristol Mayoral Election – What about housing?

Tessa Coombes - PhD student in Social Policy, University of Bristol

Tessa Coombes – PhD student in Social Policy, University of Bristol

Well, we’re almost there, the election is next week. It’s time to decide who will be the next directly elected Mayor of Bristol. With all 70 seats on the Council also up for election it looks set to be an interesting week. Hopefully this time the turnout will be higher and local people will be more engaged in having a say over who governs their city.

Over the last few months I’ve been looking closely at how housing policy has been discussed and debated publicly during the election process. At the beginning of this process it wasn’t clear quite what the political priorities would be and whether or not housing would feature as a key issue. But as time has progressed housing issues have certainly become a big part of the debate. Perhaps not surprising given the very real pressures people are feeling in relation to housing in Bristol.

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Devolution: Greater transparency and legitimacy needed in decision making

Dr Sarah Ayres: Reader in Public Policy and Governance, Chair of the commission

Dr Sarah Ayres: Reader in Public Policy and Governance, Chair of the commission

That is the conclusion of the Political Studies Association’s Research Commission to examine the role of ‘informal governance’ on devolution to England’s cities. The Commission, chaired by Dr Sarah Ayres launched its report at a round table event at the Institute for Government on 3rd March 2016. The report offers some reflections on the process of decision making around the devolution deals to date. It draws on the shared learning and experiences of key actors involved to identify elements that have worked well and also potential areas for improvement. It concludes that the devolution agenda offers a real opportunity to empower local areas, boost economic productivity and improve public services. Yet, there is a danger that the initiative will falter in the absence of greater clarity around process and enhanced local ownership of decision making.

The UK has long been regarded as one of the most centralised states in Europe. Yet, since the Scottish Referendum and the election of a Conservative Government in May 2015, the devolution agenda in England has moved forward at a rapid pace. It offers a real opportunity to significantly transform the way England is governed. There is energy and momentum behind English devolution that has the potential to address growing public concerns about the governance of England in a devolved United Kingdom. Central Government proposals for devolution have been met largely with enthusiasm from local areas and there is a firm commitment in parts of Government to see the devolution of power in core policy areas such as transport, economic development and regeneration and public service reform.

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What impact do mayors have on the cities that elect them?

Dr David Sweeting, Senior Lecturer in Urban Studies

Dr David Sweeting, Senior Lecturer in Urban Studies

Bristol’s Thinking Futures Festival of Social Science kicks off with a debate on the merits or otherwise of directly elected mayors, on 9th November at 6pm in the Watershed. Strengthening city leadership by introducing directly elected mayors is now firmly on the agenda in the UK. Several cities, including Bristol, Leicester, Liverpool, and London already have directly elected mayors. Manchester plans to introduce a ‘metro mayor’ in 2017, with the prospect of other cities to follow. Supporters claim that the mayoral model of governance can provide more visible, more accountable, and ultimately more effective city leadership. Critics argue that the model can lead to an over centralisation of power, weakening the role of councillors, and undermining confidence in local democracy. In this blog, one of the speakers at the event, David Sweeting, discusses the impact of the introduction of a mayoral system of governance in Bristol.

Recently George Osborne announced the creation of a ‘metro-mayor’ for Greater Manchester. In doing so he has joined a long line of heavyweight politicians who have endorsed the idea of directly elected mayors as at least part of the solution to issues in urban governance in English cities. From as far back as Michael Heseltine in the early 1990s, via Tony Blair, and through David Cameron the idea of a single figure to govern our cities has resonated strongly in Whitehall. In the press release on Manchester’s metro-mayor, Osborne is quoted as saying: “This will give Mancunians a powerful voice and bring practical improvements for local people, with better transport links, an Oyster-style travelcard, and more investment in skills and the city’s economy”. The prospect of other cities introducing similar figures is clearly back on the agenda – whether on existing city boundaries or across a city-region.

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What impact do mayors have on the cities that elect them?

David Sweeting, Senior Lecturer in Urban Studies in the School for Policy Studies

David Sweeting, Senior Lecturer in Urban Studies in the School for Policy Studies

Greater Manchester will become the next urban area in the UK to directly elect a mayor, following Bristol who first elected a mayor in 2012. One of the frustrations in the debate around directly elected mayors, however, is the lack of empirical evidence around which to evaluate their impact. Here, David Sweeting presents some early analysis of data from both before and after the introduction of the mayoral system in Bristol.

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One year in, Bristol’s Mayoral experiment is making a difference to the city’s governance

Bristol’s first Elected Mayor, George Ferguson, gave his first State of the City address yesterday. Here, in a post that first appeared at Democratic Audit, David Sweeting reviews the first year of George’s term in office and examines what the impact of Mayoral governance has been.

Picture of GeorgeIt is nearly a year since the first directly elected mayor of Bristol took office. While Bristol is not the only place in the country to have such a mayor, it was the only one of ten cities that said yes to a mayor in referendums held in May 2012. Despite various inducements from central government in the form of looking favourably at city deals, and also the prospect of a mayors’ cabinet with the PM himself, Bristolians were the only citizens in the country at that time to go for the option of replacing a traditional council leader with what many see as an American style figure at the head of city government. So, as the Mayor of Bristol, George Ferguson, prepares for his first ‘state of the city’ speech, it seems appropriate to ask, what difference does having an elected mayor make? Continue reading

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Towards a global parliament of mayors?

Professor of Public Policy and Head of the School for Policy Studies

Alex Marsh, Professor of Public Policy and Head of the School for Policy Studies

How should a world characterised by increasingly complex interdependence be governed? If most of the major challenges we face have no respect for the artificial borders marking out nation states, how can we identify and deliver effective solutions?

The answer Benjamin Barber offered in his stimulating presentation at the Bristol Festival of Ideas on Monday night is that we need to look to cities. More specifically, we need to look to mayors. His case is in part rooted in the fact of an increasingly urban future. But it is also based upon the characteristics he identifies as distinctive to mayoral governance. This is an argument developed at greater length in his new book If mayors ruled the world: Dysfunctional nations, rising cities (Yale University Press).

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The world won’t listen: representation and democracy in city governance

 

Dr David Sweeting, Senior Lecturer in Urban Studies

Dr David Sweeting, Senior Lecturer in Urban Studies

George Ferguson is Bristol’s directly elected mayor (DEM). The most controversial policy he has introduced so far is the introduction of parking restrictions radiating out from Bristol city centre. In a bid to cut traffic and boost public transport use, he is using the powers available to him to address an issue that was amongst the most high profile in the election campaign: transport. This policy has echoes of Ken Livingstone’s introduction of the congestion charge in London. In much the same way as Ferguson, Livingstone was cautioned against introducing what was then seen as a foolhardy and unpopular policy.

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