Bristol Council has tonight (7th Dec 2021) voted to hold a city-wide referendum on scrapping the Mayoral system and moving to a committee system, following a Lib Dem motion supported by opposition parties and seconded by a Green Councillor. Unlike most of the motions which come to meetings under an elected Mayor system, this specific motion is legally binding and the Council will now move to hold a referendum in May 2022 and put the choice of Mayoral or Committee system to Bristol’s public.
Nearly all Green Councillors supported the Lib Dem motion as they support the public having their say on the future of the Mayoral system and overall favour a committee system as the most democratic of the two alternative options. Under a committee system, decisions are made by committees made up of a proportional mix of councillors – so each party’s share of council seats determines their influence in council decisions. In the current system the elected Mayor holds all executive power and only those councillors chosen by the Mayor to be in their cabinet have a direct role in policy-making.
Briefly abolished for most councils by the 2000 Local Govt Act, committee systems were restored as an option by the 2011 Localism Act. In the years since a growing number of councils have moved to a committee system – this year Sheffield decided to adopt the system following a successful local referendum.
Speaking in favour of the motion and seconding it, Councillor Guy Poultney said:
“As Greens, we support giving people a voice in the decisions that affect their city and their lives. Imagine if this council’s policies were motivated by the desire to fix the issues we see every day in our communities.
The Green Councillor described the motion being discussed as “not a return to the past, but something more radical. Not a return to leader and cabinet (which would still be preferable to a Mayor), but a committee system that rewards consensus – councillors working together with each other to champion the communities they represent: enhancing democracy and delivering real scrutiny. A system that empowers people – that brings the voices of every neighbourhood and every community of our city into the policy-making process.”
Councillor Mohamed Makawi also spoke to support the committee system, noting that Committee system is Green party policy. He said:
“The Green Party believes that local authorities run by directly elected mayors, are not in the best interests of local democracy. They take decision making powers away from councillors as a whole and place them in the hands of a few individuals, even just one person, leading to the disenfranchisement of those councillors who are not in the ruling party and the citizens they represent.
“However, we do agree with democracy and if the people of Bristol want an elected Mayor, we will field a candidate who will positively rise to that challenge and bring more positive Green policies and participation options like the citizens assemblies we initiated last year.”
The motion was passed with 41 votes in favour and 21 against.
Speaking after the meeting, the Green Group’s leader, Heather Mack, addressed the Labour group’s hostility to the motion. She said:
“I am disappointed that after Labour councillors wanted to propose an amendment for a leader and cabinet system, a system preferred by many Labour councillors, and local MP’s over the mayoral system, that Steve Pearce dismissed the debate on how we run a city as ‘belly button fluff’. It’s an insult to his colleagues in the chamber, and to all the people who want a better democracy for the city – and it’s concerning that Labour councillors are suggesting they wouldn’t be capable of working cross party for the good of Bristol as part of a committee system.”
Councillor Guy Poultney said:
“The people of Bristol have had ten years to see the reality of the Mayoral system. This vote gives us all an opportunity to reject the Mayoral system and stand for democracy, transparency and scrutiny – I look forward to the city having the debate”