BRISTOL will get a seat at the top table of England's leading cities – but only if residents vote for a mayor, the Prime Minister has said.
David Cameron announced that he would chair the new "Cabinet of Mayors", which would meet at least every six months to swap ideas and lobby ministers for extra powers.
The intervention was an attempt to persuade voters in Bristol and nine other cities to choose an elected mayor when they go to the polls on May 3.
Senior Conservatives believe Bristol and Birmingham represent their best chances of a Yes vote, with stronger opposition in northern cities like Manchester and Newcastle.
Mr Cameron was speaking at Downing Street yesterday after summoning delegations from the 'core cities' to press the case for a Yes vote and encourage more candidates to come forward.
He said: "I want to establish a cabinet of mayors and I would chair its first meeting. I want, when we have a good number of mayors around the country, to bring them together so we can swap ideas and experience and initiatives.
"We can really make sure that central government is not just helping to deliver these referendums, but is also going to deliver extra powers, extra resources to those cities and to those mayors, so they can get even more things done."
Calling for Yes votes, Mr Cameron said mayors would "change the political culture of Britain, with more great leaders in our cities, more economic dynamism".
He was joined in making the case by Lord Heseltine, a long-standing advocate of elected mayors, who urged the audience to "put your head above the parapet" and stand for office. He also said Bristol was "exactly the sort of city" that would suit an elected mayor.
London Mayor Boris Johnson described how he made the case for the capital to drum up foreign investment. Labour and Lib Dem politicians also spoke in favour.
Critics have questioned the need for the change and have pointed out that the public is being asked to "vote blind", with extra powers on offer to mayors only to be decided after the referendums.
There were around 14 delegates from Bristol, including city MPs Stephen Williams and Charlotte Leslie, who both back the case for a mayor. City council leaders, who have opposed the switch, were not represented at Number 10. Speaking afterwards, the rest of the Bristol contingent declared themselves fully behind the move to an elected mayor but few would consider standing for the post.
Andrew Kelly, of the Bristol Cultural Development Partnership, has been organising debates to raise awareness of the referendum and said he personally favoured a mayor.
Watershed boss Dick Penny said he had no plans to run but added that he had recently been convinced of the case for a mayor because the government would only be prepared to strike deals for new powers with cities that had one in place.
Marti Burgess, who runs the Lakota nightclub in Stokes Croft, is part of the city's Yes campaign but will not be putting herself forward.
She said: "A mayor would be a point of contact for all the disparate communities."
Architect George Ferguson said he would consider running as an independent candidate, saying "a staggering number of people" had told him to put himself forward.
Peter Abraham, leader of the Tory group on the council, would also not rule himself out of running for the Conservative ticket, but insisted all his efforts were focused on securing a Yes vote.
Nigel Hutchings of the Chamber of Commerce said the business community "stood firmly behind" the case for an elected mayor, adding: "It will produce stability and growth."
PUBLICATION: Bristol Evening Post - 28 March 2012