BRISTOL'S biggest business group has claimed that introducing an elected mayor is vital if the city wants to realise its ambition of becoming a major European powerhouse.
People living in Bristol will go to the polls on May 3 to decide if there should be an elected mayor, and last night the city's Chamber of Commerce came out and publicly backed the Yes campaign.
The organisation has claimed that a directly elected mayor armed with the right policies and powers would have a huge impact on Bristol's economic health. It would like to see a mayor take control of an area bigger than the existing city boundaries – but says it will settle for a Bristol-only elected mayor for now.
Chamber of Commerce president Mike Bothamley, pictured, said: "Business is not interested in local authority boundaries or council areas, but in a thriving Bristol city region, where we can plan strategically for the jobs, skills, connectivity and housing that will meet business needs and fulfil the real potential we have."
Mr Bothamley said that existing organisation the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership helped Bristol and neighbouring councils to work together and he would not want to see a city mayor hamper this.
But he added: "We and our members do believe that the Bristol city region could benefit significantly in economic terms from the strong and effective leadership an elected mayor might bring. So while our preference would be for a directly elected metro mayor, if we can't have that yet, we will support the offer on the table at the moment, which is for a city mayor for Bristol, as we see that as a significant step in the right direction towards local power and leadership."
Phil Smith, the managing director of sister organisation Business West, is also in favour of an elected mayor.
He said: "The key role for the mayor is to take responsibility as the figurehead and ambassador for the city. Most importantly, this would involve leadership of Bristol's relationship with central government, to secure resources and investment in the city region."
"An elected mayor would therefore have to play a central role in the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership, working closely with the LEP to create jobs and support business growth.
The chamber believes that for the exercise to be worthwhile the mayor would need powers including:
- Strategic planning, which includes setting targets for housing and jobs.
- Transport, including setting up and development of a Strategic Transport Authority to deliver the integrated transport system that the Bristol region desperately needs.
- Inward investment and economic development – bringing resources and investment to the city.
- Control over local finance – responsibility for taking forward initiatives such as tax increment financing (borrowing against future increases in revenue created by redevelopment schemes) and the setting and distribution of business rates.
PUBLICATION: This is Bristol, 22nd February 2012