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Policy briefing: A directly elected mayor can enhance visible city leadership

30 October 2014

Having a directly elected mayor in Bristol has led to a huge increase in the visibility of leadership in the city, according to a unique study which has gauged public opinion before and after the creation of the new mayoral system.

This policy briefing presents the policy implications of the work of Dr. David Sweeting from the School for Policy Studies at the University of Bristol and Professor Robin Hambleton from the University of the West of England, Bristol

New data reveals that more than two thirds of Bristol citizens now say that the city has visible leadership, compared with less than one quarter before the introduction of mayoral governance.

However, increases in visibility are not necessarily matched by increases in public support for other aspects of Bristol’s governance. Less than a quarter of people say that they trust the council to make good decisions, or that their community is well represented in decision-making in the city.

These are the latest insights from the Bristol Civic Leadership Project - an independent study of leadership in the city carried out by local democracy experts at the University of Bristol and UWE Bristol.

Researchers collected the views of Bristol residents, third sector organisations, the business community, local councillors, council officers and public servants. Public opinion surveys, carried out in September 2012 and January 2014, attracted responses from 658 and 648 citizens respectively.

Dr David Sweeting, Senior Lecturer in Urban Studies at the University of Bristol, and co-author of the policy briefing, said: “This striking increase in the public profile of city leadership is a considerable boost to those who argued for the introduction of a directly elected mayor to lead the city.

“They will see this increase as evidence that the mayoral model can stimulate public interest in civic affairs. We have yet to see, however, evidence that enhanced visibility is translating into across-the-board improvements in perceptions of Bristol’s governance.”

The project is designed to be the first ever ‘before and after’ study of the impact a directly elected mayor can have on urban governance.

It aims to work through the practical implications of the introduction of the new system in the city, with a view to maximising its benefits and mitigating its disadvantages.

Robin Hambleton, Professor of City Leadership at UWE Bristol, also co-author of the policy briefing, added: “The exciting thing about this project is that, as well as generating benefits for Bristol, there is potential to feed lessons from our city into the national debates about how to develop the capacity of our cities to govern themselves.

“This is especially important just now because there is growing recognition that devolution from Whitehall can deliver better outcomes than our current over centralised system.”

Next steps will see the researchers working closely with stakeholders in the city to think through the practice of mayoral governance.

A report, to be published in 2015, will assess perceptions of the performance of the mayoral model of governance and will include suggestions on how it might be improved. This will be followed by a national seminar to disseminate findings from Bristol to a wider audience.

Further information

This policy briefing presents the policy implications of the work of Dr David Sweeting from the School for Policy Studies at the University of Bristol and Professor Robin Hambleton from the University of the West of England, Bristol

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