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The Bristol referendum 2022: Thinking through the options

Sweeting, David; Hambleton, Robin; Oliver, Thom


David Sweeting


In May 2022 there will be a referendum on Bristol City Council’s governance arrangements. The citizens of Bristol will be asked to decide if they wish to retain the mayoral system of decision-making or replace it with a committee system of decision-making.

Why is the referendum important?
Bristol City Council is a large, democratically elected local authority. It is responsible for a range of important public services including education, social care, public health, planning, waste, housing, and transport. In addition, the city council works in partnership with many other stakeholders in the public, private, voluntary and community sectors to improve the quality of life of everyone living in the city. The way Bristol’s governance is organised has a major impact not just on whether the city council is able to be effective in meeting the many complex challenges facing the city, but also on the democratic vitality and inclusiveness of decision-making in the city. The referendum is important because it provides the opportunity for all the citizens of Bristol to have a direct say in how they wish to govern themselves.

Purpose of this report
The purpose of this report, prepared by researchers working on the Bristol Civic Leadership Project (, is to provide a dispassionate analysis of the background to the referendum, and to set out the strengths and weaknesses of the two different governance models that voters will be asked to judge.

The specific aims of this report are to:
• Present the context for the choice to be made in the referendum
• Explain the two models that will be presented to the electorate
• Review the main arguments for and against these two models
• Consider how each model has worked, or could work, in Bristol
• Offer proposals on the design of the system of decision-making at Bristol City Council


Sweeting, D., Hambleton, R., & Oliver, T. (2022). The Bristol referendum 2022: Thinking through the options. Bristol: Policy Bristol

Report Type Discussion Paper
Acceptance Date Mar 1, 2022
Online Publication Date Mar 7, 2022
Publication Date Mar 14, 2022
Deposit Date Mar 6, 2022
Publicly Available Date Mar 14, 2022
Keywords Mayoral Governance, Bristol, Local Government, Referendum, City Leadership
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information ISBN 9780993382826
e-ISBN 9780993382833


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