If you look back just over six months to the referendum on whether or not Bristol should even have an elected Mayor, there were all sorts of scare stories about how it would cost the earth. The people of Bristol saw through that, and made us the only city to vote in that referendum to switch from having a Council Leader chosen from amongst the 70 councillors by their colleagues, into having a Mayor elected directly by the public. The rest is history!
I do want to be able to reassure people though that the runaway cost nightmare is nonsense, so let’s talk facts.
I don’t set my salary. It is recommended by an independent panel of experts giving their advice on what is reasonable and voted on by the Council members. They recommended the same as an MP – that is £65,700, about one third of that of the previous Chief Executive. To start with I’m paid £52,474 – exactly the same, to the penny, as the Council Leader who came before me who’s responsibilities were considerably less. I have agreed to take my salary in Bristol Pounds – which means that every penny of my wages will be spent in local shops, bars and restaurants, employing local people, not in multiple-national chain stores which take all their profits out of the city.
Maybe I’ll be appointing a big entourage of support staff on the rates? No – one new staff member actually, directly helping me develop the initiatives and partnerships on which I was elected. She’ll be helping me out, alongside the existing Personal Assistant I’ve inherited from the former Council Leader. This compares rather favourably with the three members of staff who work for the Liberal Democrat councillors, the three for Labour, and the two for the Conservatives.
My sole new staff member is an independent person, who’s never been a member of a political party. Her skills and professional career background are in building initiatives and partnerships – because those are my values, and that is what I want to achieve as Mayor.
The workload may mean that I shall in due course need to appoint a second person to help out – but not if it ends up meaning it costs more having a Mayor than what we had before.
Will I be splashing more cash on extra payments to councillors then, to help oil the wheels with taxpayers’ hard-earned money? Wrong again! I don’t set these payments to councillors either – but I do control how many people I appoint to my cabinet, each entitled to an extra £20,065 each. Before I took office, there were 7 cabinet members – but I’m only appointing a maximum of six (and currently only 3 since one party very publicly turned me down). That’s at least one extra saving of £20,065/year because we have me as Mayor. While there remain vacancies in the cabinet there will be a further saving of up to £60,000 some of which may be used to cover the expenses of advisors and Youth Mayors.
Will I be having a chauffeur driven car then? A clothes allowance? Travelling in first class train carriages? No – none of it! I might take an occasional taxi when rushing around to meetings, or upgrade seats at my own expense in order to be able to work, but you are far more likely to see me on foot, on my bike, or in my own personal little electric powered Smart car. When I go to London by train to persuade ministers to give more to Bristol, I travel second class, off-peak where possible, and save the city money by using my senior railcard!
When I stayed over in London for the night last week to cram in more meetings, I stayed at my daughter’s home, rather than run up a hotel bill. I am serious when I say that I will look after tax-payer’s money as carefully as we all look after our own. For a day and a half in London, cramming in nine meetings, I cost a grand total of £75.
How about a fancy office, with plush new furniture? No – I’m just using the same modest room in City Hall that the Council Leader has done for years, with the same bog standard office furniture. I’ll also save by using my own personal laptop instead of needing a council computer.
The election must have cost a pretty penny though – doesn’t that mean having a Mayor costs more in running elections? Not if I have my way, no. Earlier in the year, the 70councillors put off having a vote on whether to move away from the expensive system of having elections three years out of every four. They said they wanted to wait till a Mayor was in place, so they could join in that discussion. Well – I’m here now, and I say let’s get on with it and move to all out four-yearly elections. This will mean we’ll have fewer elections saving hundreds of thousands of pounds and an awful lot more stability, and hopefully better government.
Maybe you’ve got the idea by now. With me as Mayor, it costs less.
I am already working hard though at bringing in more money to Bristol. More money in investment and jobs from companies large and small moving here and growing here. And more money in infrastructure investment from Whitehall and Brussels too. This will sometimes mean bearing the cost of foreign travel – but we don’t achieve valuable inward investment for waiting for it to come to us.
Judge me by what I deliver, not just by ill-informed speculation, cheap jibes or lazy rumour when the simple facts tell a very different story.
I’m your Mayor. I work for you. That’s my word, and you can hold me to it.