Mayor of Bristol

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Mayor of Bristol
Arms of Bristol City Council.svg
Marvin Rees, 2016 Labour Party Conference 2.jpg
Marvin Rees

since 7 May 2016
StyleCity Mayor (to distinguish from Lord Mayor, a separate post)
Term lengthFour years
First holderGeorge Ferguson
DeputyCraig Cheney and Asher Craig[1]
Salary£65,738 (2015)[2]

The Mayor of Bristol is the head of government of Bristol and the chief executive of the Bristol City Council. The Mayor is a directly elected politician who, along with the 70 members of Bristol City Council, is responsible for the strategic government of the city of Bristol, England. The role was created after a local referendum held on 3 May 2012, which followed the passage of the Localism Act 2011.[3] 41,032 voted for an elected mayor and 35,880 voted against, with a turnout of 24%.[4][5] An election for the new post was held on 15 November 2012.[6][7]

The current Mayor is Marvin Rees, elected on 5 May 2016.

The post of Lord Mayor of Bristol is a separate office, elected each May by city councillors and taking office on 29 September for a one-year period. The Lord Mayor chairs Council meetings and performs ceremonial functions in the city.[8]

On 7 December 2021, Bristol City Council voted in favour of holding another referendum on the position of Mayor in May 2022, with regards to whether to retain the position or return to decision-making by councillors. Any change would come into effect at the end of the current mayoral term, in 2024.[9][10]

On 5 May 2022 the city voted to abolish the position in a referendum, replacing it with a committee system in May 2024.[11]


The Local Government Act 2000 required local authorities in the United Kingdom to move from the traditional committee-based system of decision making to one based on an executive, also allowing the possibility of a directly elected mayor.[12] The first directly elected mayor was in Greater London in 2000.[13] Others followed in other authorities, including Hartlepool,[14] Middlesbrough,[14] Tower Hamlets,[15] Liverpool[16] and Salford.[17]

Referendum campaigns[edit]

2012 Referendum[edit]

Following the passage of The City of Bristol (Mayoral Referendum) Order 2012 by the United Kingdom Parliament in February 2012,[18] a referendum was announced for 3 May 2012.[19] Nine other cities also held referendums on the same day: Birmingham,[20] Bradford,[21] Coventry,[22] Leeds,[23] Manchester,[24] Newcastle upon Tyne,[25] Nottingham,[26] Sheffield[27] and Wakefield.[28] In addition, Doncaster Borough Council voted to hold a referendum on the same day to decide whether or not to retain their existing elected mayoral system, having been one of the earliest authorities to adopt the mayoral system in 2001.[29][30]

Campaigning groups supporting (A Mayor for Bristol)[31] and opposing (Bristol Says No!)[32] an elected mayor were established. A debate organised by the University of Bristol took place in the Council House on 22 February 2012.[33]

During the campaign, there were complaints that many voters did not receive leaflets produced by the city council explaining what the referendum was about.[34][35] Cities minister, Greg Clark accused the council of inaccuracies in the leaflet and refused to cover the printing costs.[36] After Clark promised more powers would be available to Bristol with an elected mayor, the city council accused him of "blackmail".[37]

The result, declared on 4 May 2012 by returning officer Stephen McNamara, was in favour of creating the position. Bristol was the only one of the ten cities voting that day to choose to have an elected mayor.[7]

Bristol Mayoral referendum
4 May 2012
Choice Votes %
Referendum passed Elected Mayor 41,032 53
Cabinet System 35,880 47
Total votes 76,912 100.00
Source: [5]

2022 Referendum[edit]

On 7 December 2021, the majority of elected Councillors backed a legally binding motion to hold a referendum on the future of the role of the Elected Mayor of Bristol. In May of 2022, the people of Bristol voted to abolish the role of Mayor in the referendum.[38][39]

Bristol Mayoral referendum
5 May 2022
Choice Votes %
Referendum passed Committee System 56,113 59
Elected Mayor 38,439 41
Total votes 94,931 100.00


George Ferguson was sworn in as the first directly elected mayor of Bristol in the Passenger Shed at Bristol Temple Meads station on 20 November 2012. On his first day of taking office, Ferguson implemented two policies, revoking Sunday car parking charges and announcing that the 'Council House', the administrative seat of Bristol, would be renamed 'City Hall'.[40]

Ferguson appointed a "rainbow cabinet" comprising a deputy and five assistant mayors, drawn from four of the main political parties.[41] He also appointed two youth mayors following a citywide election by the youth community.[42] Ferguson took a portion of his salary as mayor in the local Bristol Pound.[40][43] The salary of the Mayor of Bristol was aligned with the salary of a UK Member of Parliament in 2013,[44] and has not risen despite independent recommendations[45][46] and a 10% increase in MP's pay to £74,000.[47]

Ferguson's tenure as Mayor of Bristol came to an end in May 2016 When he was voted out of office in a landslide vote. Ferguson polled only one third of the total votes, including second preferences, against Marvin Rees who secured two thirds.[48]

Public finances[edit]

One of Ferguson's first challenges on election was to cut £35 million from the 2013/14 budget and plan for a further £65 million in spending cuts over the following three years as part of central Government austerity measures.[49] Most of the savings in the 2013/14 budget (approximately £20 million) were achieved through cuts and changes in council staffing.[49]

Over the next 12 months, the challenge had increased to cutting £90 million. Ferguson proposed to achieve most of the savings through staffing cuts and other efficiencies within the council. Several cuts proposed in the 2014-2017 draft budget generated feedback, such as a proposal to discontinue staff supervision at Hengrove Park.[50][51][52] Following the 2014–2017 Bristol city council budget public consultation, Ferguson and the Council removed some of the proposed changes.[53][54]

Following ferguson's term an independent report, the Bundred Report, identified that there were substantial savings of over £29 million that had been falsely accounted by his administration, and that Ferguson had presided over serious "leadership failures" that had led to a shortfall in city budgets.[55] Kerry McCarthy MP brought the issue to national attention at Prime Minister's Questions where she described the "abject failure by the previous mayor [George Ferguson] to get a grip on council finances."[56] Police confirmed that they had received complaints of fraud over Ferguson's budgets in the lead-up to the 2016 Mayoral election, and suspicion that the true state of the Council finances had been deliberately covered up to aid Ferguson's chances of reelection.[57][58]

Traffic and transport[edit]

Ferguson had expressed his determination to tackle traffic congestion by trying to force a change in the city's culture and get people out of cars and onto buses or bicycles.[59][60]

Residents Parking Zones (RPZ)[edit]

In March 2013, Ferguson announced plans to expand existing Residents Parking Zones across the city, in order to reduce the number of commuters driving into the city.[61][62] The plans were scaled back in June 2013 following public consultation and "heavy criticism".[63]

Ferguson made changes to new schemes to reflect feedback from the public, including introducing a traders permit and making the first 30 minutes free in all new areas.[64] Ferguson has maintained that his RPZ proposals enjoy a high level of support from the "quiet majority".[65] However, in January 2015, the council's own statistics revealed that over 90% of Clifton respondents in a request for feedback had objected to his plans.

Ferguson's plan to expand Residents Parking Zones (RPZ) across the city was highly contentious.[66] The roll-out was beset by protests in several districts of the City where streets in Easton and Montpellier were barricaded to prevent the implementation.[67][68] The project infrastructure, ticket machines and painted lines have also been widely vandalised costing an estimated £30,000 in repairs.[69][70]

Speed limits[edit]

Mayor Ferguson spearheaded the roll-out of a £2.3 million programme of 20 mph limits across the city, following pilots in Bedminster and east Bristol in 2010.[71][72] In November 2014, Councillors passed a motion calling on Ferguson to give Neighbourhood Partnerships the power to decide on 20 mph limits for their communities.[73][74][75]

In February 2015, Ferguson was caught breaking the speed limit in a Bristol City Council fleet car whilst driving at 35 mph in a 30 mph area on a journey from Avonmouth along the Portway.[76] He went on record saying it was "a stupid mistake" and apologised for it. He stated "Speed limits are there for a good purpose. We should respect them, and I do respect them."[72] He was later mocked on the popular BBC Two television show Top Gear.[77]


Metrobus, previously Bristol Rapid Transit (BRT), is a scheme developed jointly by the West of England Partnership: a partnership between Bristol City, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Councils.[78] In development from 2006 it received government backing in November 2013.[79] During the Mayoral election campaign, George Ferguson pledged to cancel the proposed BRT scheme if he was elected.[80][81] When he came to office, Ferguson made minor amendments to route proposals rather than cancelling the project. In July 2013, Ferguson announced that surrounding local authorities had approved the changes he'd proposed to the route of the planned BRT2 to avoid it running through the Bristol Harbourside area. The system, renamed Metrobus, was also changed to use modern low emission vehicles which were later dropped as a cost-cutting measure.[82][83][84] However, protest groups who challenged the route, cost, and feasibility of the scheme accused Ferguson of breaking the electoral promises laid out before his election.[80]

A second challenge to Ferguson's support of the Metrobus project came when the next phase was submitted for planning consent in March 2014.[85] Objections to the application were raised over the proposed felling of a large number of mature trees, to the loss of Grade 1 agricultural land at Stapleton that Ferguson had previously promised in his election manifesto to protect, the damage to the setting of Grade 1 Listed Stoke Park house and Grade 2 Registered historic landscape surrounding it, and the lack of public consultation over the proposals.[86] Following the approval of the scheme in August 2014 work began in January 2015 causing further protest, and activists set up camp in trees the council were about to fell. Ferguson's support for the project remained resolute. With Bristol's status as European Green Capital in 2015, Ferguson reiterated his support for the scheme and referred to the developing protest as "a challenging situation" and claimed he had "done more than anyone to minimise the environmental effects of the Metrobus project".[87][88] Protesters attended a press event at which Ferguson was present with Government Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss planting the one millionth tree of the national Big Tree Plant programme. At it, he accused the protesters of "blowing this issue out of all proportion".[88]

City branding and international travel[edit]

Ferguson has referred to Bristol as a 'brand' and himself as "Bristol's Brand manager".[89] During a 12-month period from January to December 2014, Ferguson and his entourage took six international flights. George Ferguson's international travel as Bristol Mayor exceeded that of London's mayor Boris Johnson in the same period.[90][91]

Sale of Bristol Port[edit]

In March 2014, Ferguson expressed his intention to sell the freehold ownership of Avonmouth and Portbury docks which had been retained by the city council since the leasehold was sold in 1991.[92] Controversy surrounded the sale from the beginning.[93]

On 1 April 2014, Ferguson decided to sell the port to The Bristol Port Company for £10 million. However, elected councillors felt the valuation report undervalued the 2,000 acres (810 ha) estate because the Bristol Port Company had a £13.7 million annual turnover during the years 2013-2014. Ferguson's peers also felt the deal lacked transparency.[93] On 1 June 2015, 16 councillors voted against the sale, while 41 backed the sale. Following the vote they referred the decision back to Ferguson for reconsideration.[94] Ferguson approved the deal on 16 June 2015.[95]

At the same meeting, the Assistant Mayor with responsibility for property and transport, Mark Bradshaw, expressed his opposition to the sale. Later in the evening, the Ferguson sacked Bradshaw from his cabinet position by email. Ferguson later accused Bradshaw, who was running as Labour's mayoral candidate in the following year's elections of "playing party politics".[96] Ferguson denied accusations that he'd sacked Bradshaw for opposing his wishes or being a threat to his hoped re-election and claimed Bradshaw had "started to use the cabinet and his position as a political stage for his own ambition".[97]

Days before the 2016 Mayoral elections on 5 May it transpired that Ferguson had covered up the potential for oil shale gas (fracking) on the Avonmouth port estate cited "major embarrassment" if it was revealed after the sale and an obstacle in getting councillor's approval for the sale. Ferguson wrote to the port stating their pursuant of an extraction licence "very unfortunately, in any case, complicate(s) the proposed freehold sale and would cause me major embarrassment if it went ahead in its present form." Port Company executives agreed, stating that: "we always recognise potential for embarrassment around shale gas extraction". It remained unclear whether any protection of the area has been negotiated.[98]

European Green Capital[edit]

In March 2013, Ferguson led a delegation from Bristol to Brussels to present Bristol's bid to be European Green Capital 2015 and three months later it was announced that Bristol had won.[99] Bristol received a £7 million grant from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to support the year-long event, and the Council approved a further £1 million of its own funds for the same.[100]

An arms-length company was formed to organise the events for the year - Bristol 2015 Ltd - of which George Ferguson became a director. Andrew Garrad,[101] who'd been the second largest donor to George Ferguson's election campaign, was elected by the Bristol 2015 Board[102] to the unpaid post of chair.[103][104] Garrad remained a member of the same private group The Society of Merchant Venturers from whom Ferguson had stood down from shortly after the election.[105]

In December 2014, the proposed recipients of Bristol's Green Capital Strategic Grants were announced. Grants were awarded by Bristol 2015 Ltd on the recommendation of a panel which contained neither members of the Board nor employees of the company. 136 groups applied for funding, only 32 were accepted, 10 of which Bristol 2015 board members managed or worked for and accounted for £500,000 of the total grants made. A company called Playing Out CIC, of which Ferguson's daughter is managing director,[106] received £41,000 raising questions about the public accountability of Bristol 2015 Ltd, and apparent conflicts of interest between its directors, employees, and outside organisations.[107]

In total Bristol 2015 supported 204 projects in the city through various grants.[108]

Concerns continued over Bristol 2015 Ltd's management of the £8 million of public money. As the Limited Company had no legal requirement to publish its accounts, and refused to do so, concerns were raised with Mr Ferguson, as mayor and a company director. It was stated that there was a lack of transparency in how funds had been spent, and how certain elements, such as a web site that cost almost a quarter of a million pounds, had been procured and managed.[109] In addition to the money spent by Bristol 2015 Ltd it later transpired that the city had paid a further £29,000 in hotel bills for the mayor and executive council officers for attendance at the COP21 climate change conference in Paris which was a requirement of the DECC grant.[110][111]

At the closing ceremony on 5 February 2016 protesters calling for the publication of the accounts were branded "lunatics" by Mr Ferguson, and, although still refusing to make the full spending public, claimed "I have nothing to hide".[112] He later dismissed the debate about the use of the £8 million as a "fuss about the cost of sandwiches".[113]

A detailed report [114] "It Doesn't Stop Here! A City-Wide Review" on Bristol's year as European Green Capital was published by Bristol 2015 Ltd in February 2016. After his election in May 2016 Mayor Rees announced, in his swearing-in speech,[115] that he would commission an independent review of the European Green Capital. Stephen Bundred,[116] a retired senior civil servant who had been Chief Executive of the Audit Commission, was appointed in October 2016 to undertake the review. His report was published in January 2017.[114] Bundred concludes "The bottom line is that measured against the task that it was given, it is impossible to reach any other conclusion than that Bristol 2015 Ltd performed well and the Green Capital year was a considerable success." In January 2017 Mayor Rees summarised his own view [117] of Bristol's European Green Capital as "an undoubted success with a few bumps in the road". Bristol Green Capital Partnership [118] which was strengthened and re-structured during 2015 by a specific grant will now carry on the legacy work.

In 2015 Bristol Energy, a municipally owned energy supply company, was founded. It was seen as "a new model of energy company that contributes to the wellbeing of local communities", and was intended to support local renewable energy generators and reinvest profits back into Bristol council services. The company began taking customers in February 2016.[119][120]

Bristol Arena[edit]

The prioritisation of an entertainment arena for Bristol, building on the efforts of previous administrations, was one of Ferguson's central pledges of his mayoral campaign.[121][122] The proposal was approved as part of Bristol City Council's budget in February 2014 and the 12,000 capacity venue on the site of the former Bristol Bath Road depot was expected to open in 2017. The bulk of funding came as a loan of £53 million from the City Deal to be repaid by the retention of business rates arising from regeneration, via the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership, while the council will loan a further £38 million to be financed by the lease to the operator.[123] The costs involved in the project spiralled from £80 million when it was first proposed by Ferguson, to £92.5 million by October 2015, a 16% increase in budget, and the proposed opening delayed until 2018.[124][125] By 17 September 2015 the project's cost had risen to £94 million.[126] It was also revealed that the 12,000 capacity arena would be provided with not more than 45 car parking spaces.[127]

In October 2015 Ferguson had remarked that only a "stupid city" would invest in arena car parking, but four months later his officers put forward plans for an 8-storey 500-space car park to serve it.[128][129]

In March 2016 Ferguson's plans suffered a further setback when the city's planning committee described the proposals as "defective". The committee, who hold an impartial and quasi-judicial responsibility under planning law, deferred making a decision until an appropriate level of supporting information could be provided. It was stated the scheme had been "rushed" to try to get it approved during Ferguson's re-election campaign, public concern over parking and transport around the proposals had not been properly addressed, and the committee were not confident in the detail submitted for approval.[130] Ferguson expressed himself as angry and outraged at the majority decision of the committee.[131] His accusations that the planning committee were "playing politics" united cross-party condemnation, and it was declared as unhelpful of the mayor to "display such public acts of pique" over the considered judgements of the committee.[132]

Prior to the cancellation of the arena project in September 2018 and in one of a number of public interventions, Ferguson authored a scathing letter to Bristol 24/7 in which he accused his successor Marvin Rees of breaking 'all seven principles of public life' in his conduct regarding the decision.[133]

The City Deal[edit]

In March 2014, Ferguson, together with the leaders of the three surrounding authorities that form the West of England, agreed a 'City Deal' with Government. This would allow Bristol to retain income from business rates and decide how the money should be spent. In the past business rates were kept by Government to be distributed nationally.[134]

However, in January 2015, with Bristol City Council still to sign a deal with other local authorities, Ferguson launched an alternative partnership for a City Region with the cities of Cardiff and Newport in Wales. Rejecting the previous partnership negotiated with the city's neighbouring Local Authorities he stated "I like to move at the pace of the fastest, not the slowest".[135] More than a year later, in February 2016, surrounding Local authorities had still not been consulted on the "Great Western Cities Plan" leading to concerns that Ferguson was jeopardising devolution discussions with government. The Deputy Leader of neighbouring North Somerset Council, Elfan Ap Rees, said "We're in the middle of trying to sort out the devolution deal to our benefit for the West of England and here's the mayor (George Ferguson) trotting off to do something entirely different. It's ridiculous."[136]


Ferguson introduced 'Make Sunday Special', an idea borrowed from Bordeaux, one of Bristol's twin cities. On selected Sundays in the summer, some roads in the city centre are closed to motor vehicles and various entertainments or events are laid on.[40][137] This initiative ended simultaneously with the end of Ferguson's tenure.

Ferguson is currently Patron of Circus City - Bristol's Biennial Circus Festival. A flagship event on the city's cultural calendar, Circus City spans 3–4 weeks, and hosts 80+ events in 15+ venues across the city, with the aim of promoting Bristol as an international capital of contemporary circus arts.

Public image[edit]

Ferguson wearing his trademark red trousers.

Ferguson is a self-proclaimed 'establishment rebel' and has stated that his well-known trademark red trousers signify this.[89] He has been described at "larger than life", and his leadership style has been described positively as "decisive", but conversely as "arrogant" and "high handed".[138] Research undertaken by Bristol University demonstrated increased visibility of city governance under the mayoral model, but revealed citizens felt unrepresented and concerned about how decisions were being taken.[139]

Several incidents have occurred during Ferguson's tenure as mayor that have received widespread media coverage and affected his public image. Ferguson himself acknowledged the issues in an interview with the BBC in January 2016 and sought to highlight the positive change the mayoral model had brought about.[140]

During the run-up to the Mayoral Election, in September 2012, Ferguson had been forced to apologise for suggesting some ways of developing the city may be "too Irish", a derogatory term implying that they were ludicrous or illogical.[141] In May 2013, Ferguson was caught on camera using a four-letter expletive directed at a member of public, 27-year-old citizen Paul Saville, at a public event in Bristol city centre. George Ferguson later accused him of stalking and refused to apologise for the insult saying he "was not sorry". The event drew local and UK national media coverage, including the BBC, and quickly generated a series of T-shirts parodying the words he'd used.[142][143][144][145]

The following month the leader of the Conservative group of city councillors made an official complaint to the City Director about a "foul mouthed" outburst from the mayor. In a short exchange Mr Ferguson was reported to have used a four-letter word several times; an incident that sparked further media interest.[146][147]

On 7 January 2015, after a Bristol motorist posted a "joke" comment on social media implying that he had driven off after hitting a cyclist,[148] Mr Ferguson commented that his Tweet "has chilling echoes of 60's Deep South racism".[149] The following day, he was forced to apologise following public criticism of the comparison.[150]

In his defence in January 2016, Ferguson claimed "Occasionally I may have lost my rag with may have been once a year....but it gets repeated and repeated and that becomes my image." In the same interview Ferguson tackled public perceptions of his "dictatorial" nature and pledged to be "more consensual" if he were re-elected. However, he failed to win re-election.[151][152]


The first election for the new post was held on 15 November 2012,[153] the same day as elections for a Police and Crime Commissioner for the Avon and Somerset Constabulary area.[154] A number of potential candidates expressed and interest in standing,[155] and 15 candidates stood for election to be mayor.[156]

The supplementary vote system is used for the elections, with each voter being entitled to list a first and second choice candidate. In this system if no candidate has more than half of the votes plus one in the first round of counting, all candidates other than the top two are eliminated and voters' second choices from the eliminated candidates are then allocated to the remaining candidates. The second election for Mayor of Bristol took place in May 2016.[157]


Bristol Mayoral Election 15 November 2012
Party Candidate 1st round 2nd round
 First round votes  Transfer votes 
Total Of round Transfers Total Of round
Bristol 1st George Ferguson 31,321 35.13% 6,032 37,353 52.94%
Labour Marvin Rees 25,896 29.05% 5,363 31,259 47.06%
Conservative Geoff Gollop 8,136 9.13%
Liberal Democrats Jon Rogers 6,202 6.96%
Green Daniella Radice 5,248 5.89%
Independent Owain George 2,404 2.70%
Independent Spud Murphy 1,855 2.08%
Respect Neil Maggs 1,568 1.76%
Independent Stoney Garnett 1,413 1.58%
TUSC Tom Baldwin 1,412 1.58%
Independent Tim Collins 1,037 1.16%
Independent Philip Pover 994 1.11%
Independent Tony Britt 761 0.85%
Independent Rich Fisher 494 0.55%
The Birthday Party Dave Dobbs 411 0.46%
Bristol 1st win

Turnout at the election was 27.92%.


Bristol Mayoral Election 5 May 2016[158]
Party Candidate 1st round 2nd round
 First round votes  Transfer votes 
Total Of round Transfers Total Of round
Labour Marvin Rees 56,729 40.4% 12,021 68,750 62.5%
Bristol 1st George Ferguson 32,375 23.1% 7,202 39,577 37.5%
Conservative Charles Lucas 19,617 14.0%
Green Tony Dyer 10,000 7.1%
Liberal Democrats Kay Barnard 8,078 5.8%
UKIP Paul Anthony Turner 7,115 5.1%
TUSC Tom Baldwin 1,876 1.3%
Independent Stoney Garnett 1,384 1.0%
Independent Christine Charlotte Townsend 1,010 0.7%
Independent Tony Britt 877 0.6%
Independent Paul Anthony Saville 545 0.4%
Independent John Langley 367 0.3%
Independent Mayor Festus Kudehinbu 341 0.2%
Labour gain from Bristol 1st

Turnout in the election was 44.87%.


Because of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, elections for the mayor of Bristol were delayed from 2020 to May 2021. The mayoral term following these elections will be shortened by a year.[159]

Bristol Mayoral Election 6 May 2021 [160]
Party Candidate 1st round 2nd round
 First round votes  Transfer votes 
Total Of round Transfers Total Of round
Labour Marvin Rees 50,510 36.3% 8,766 59,276 56.5%
Green Sandy Hore-Ruthven 36,331 26.1% 9,332 45,663 43.5%
Conservative Alastair Watson 25,816 18.6%
Liberal Democrats Caroline Gooch 15,517 11.2%
Independent Sean Donnelly 4,956 3.6%
TUSC Tom Baldwin 3,194 2.3%
Independent John Langley 1,528 1.1%
Reform UK Robert Clarke 806 0.6%
Independent Oska Shaw 389 0.3%
Labour hold

Turnout at the election was 41.15%.[161]

List of mayors[edit]

Political party Name Entered office Left office
Bristol 1st George Ferguson 19 Nov 2012 8 May 2016
Labour Marvin Rees 9 May 2016 Incumbent

See also[edit]


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