While voting for Police and Crime Commissioners has taken most of the attention today, the people of Bristol are also currently taking to the polls to vote for their new mayor.
The referenda on mayors held back in May were a bit of a damp squib – Bristol was the only city of those polled on the issue of introducing a mayor to vote yes. But despite going against the crowd, the significant improvement in strategic leadership that the mayoralty is likely to provide will be a very good thing.
So how should the winner of today’s vote put these freedoms to good use? Here are three suggestions:
- Make sure Bristol’s City Deal is a success. The recent negotiation that the city entered into with Whitehall has given it an excellent opportunity to tailor economic policy for its area. In the short term delivering on this Deal should be the number one economic priority for the new mayor.
- Play a co-ordinating role between policy areas and act as a figurehead. The Mayor of London is a good example of what can be achieved here. He chairs multiple London-wide boards that are responsible for economic development, such as Transport for London and the Local Enterprise Partnership. He sets the London Plan, which sets out a city wide strategy to support economic growth. And most clearly of all, he acts as a figurehead for the capital, not just for the rest of the UK but around the world. Investors know who to speak to; citizens know who to hold accountable. When asked to name the leader of London, surely few would struggle to answer.
- Self-define the role. Lack of clarity around what extra a mayoralty would do is likely to have been one of the main reasons for the resounding 'no to mayors' vote in most cities back in May. But this presents a real opportunity for the Bristol mayor. The appetite shown by Government to devolve power through City Deals gives scope for further requests from the mayor’s office. Again, London acts as the case in point – the remit of the Mayor of London is much wider now than when the position was created in 2000, a remit that has been expanded incrementally over the last 12 years.
Of course, the Mayor of London covers 33 local authorities, rather than the one that the Mayor of Bristol will represent. This is a key problem of the type of mayoralty that was offered to our cities outside of London.
So over the longer term, as the mayor demonstrates the impact that they can have on the city economy, he or she should also seek to work with neighbours to augment the mayor's political coverage to one that matches the economy of the city, not an artificial boundary on a map. For those outer areas worried that this will mean too much focus on the city at the expense of more rural areas, it may be worth remembering that the first time Boris Johnson was elected mayor of London, it was on the basis of votes in the suburbs rather than the city centre.
Bristol is a vital cog in UK plc. With the strong stewardship of its new mayor it could cement its position as England's strongest performing big city outside of London. Today marks an important juncture in the city's history. Whoever is elected, the mayoralty is likely to provide significant scope to support the city and its residents to prosper in the future.
Follow Paul on twitter @Paul_Swinney