Scrutiny of decision-making at Bristol City Council

Following concerns about scrutiny of decision-making for major projects in Bristol, such as future plans for Arena Island, a question was submitted to the Mayor at full council on Tuesday 14 January. In particular there have been concerns about complex papers not being made available in time to be read properly by scrutiny councillors and the public.

See, for example,

The question, and the Mayor’s response, are reproduced in full below.

Question

The Ministry of Housing, Community and Local Government states that scrutiny is fundamental to local democracy, especially:

  • Rights of access to documents by the press, public and councillors
  • Transparent and fully recorded decision-making processes (avoiding ‘unofficial’ committees or working groups)
  • Powers to question and review, including the legal requirement for the mayor, members of the executive and officers to attend overview and scrutiny committee sessions when asked to do so.

Please can you outline what measures you have put in place to support these 3 important elements of scrutiny under your leadership? 

Response from the Mayor

We have gone beyond the benchmarks of the MHCLG you refer to so that we have made decision making in this city accountable and transparent for the first time in decades.

For example, we invited the LGA to come to Bristol City Council and witness first-hand our ways of working. They spent 460 hours determining their findings and interviewed key stakeholders and city leaders in a corporate peer challenge.

We have agreed that the chairs of scrutiny committee should belong to opposition parties, who decide their own agendas and work plans. They base this on the Mayor’s forward plan which we have populated with as much information as possible.

Beyond that, the Mayoral model improves the scope for scrutiny by citizens – in part because there is a recognisable and accessible figurehead to hold to account. As Mayor, I take part in a series of regular events including Facebook Live, Bristol Question time, Hot Coffee Hot Topic, Meet the Mayor and OSMB Mayor’s Question time.

However, I do not take the decisions that impact our city alone. My cabinet take questions at scrutiny meetings and have decision making responsibility at cabinet.  They represent the council at statutory decision making bodies such as the Health and Wellbeing Board.

We’ve made decision making in the city, for too long hidden away in board rooms or institutions, accessible and visible. A key milestone has been the development of the One City Plan and the associated six city boards that engage the wider city, pulling their agreed goals and objectives into a place where the city itself can begin to see them.

This, rightly, exists alongside the usual processes and procedures councillors have available to them to review the council’s decisions in relation to any One City goal.

Local democracy is so much more than those three points, our four political parties, or these four chamber walls.

Thank you for submitting a question to Full Council.

MR signature for letters

Marvin Rees

Mayor of Bristol