Bristol mayor makes Westminster cash bid

George Ferguson
Image caption George Ferguson is hoping for extra funding from Westminster

Bristol's newly elected mayor is to call on government ministers to devolve a host of powers and funding to the West.

In his first visit to the capital as mayor, George Ferguson will be buoyed by the encouraging noises made by Westminster before May's mayoral referendum about handing out extra responsibilities.

The independent mayor will test the generosity of the government in austere times by asking for extra funding to plug the gap in the city council's finances for the 2013-14 budget which has now risen to £34m.

He will also ask for £40m to refurbish the auditorium of the Colston Hall and for £50m for an Avon flood barrier - similar to that across the Thames in London.

But as well as hoping for extra investment, Mr Ferguson will ask Cities Minister Greg Clark and Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis for extra powers.

He wants the ability to spend the £114m earmarked for two bus transit routes and the south Bristol Link Road in different ways - perhaps on more rail services or a fleet of electric-powered buses.

The new mayor also wants the Temple Meads Enterprise Zone to be larger, extending into Redcliffe, to link the train station there with the city centre, and he wants controls over supermarkets within Bristol's planning system.

Mr Ferguson said: "Bristol can act as a bit of a test-bed for progressive change and if these experiments are successful then they can be applied to other cities.

"So I think Bristol has an opportunity here to be one step ahead of other cities in many aspects."

The government was making encouraging noises ahead of the mayor's visit - the first of a series being planned.

Cities Minister Greg Clark told the BBC: "He needs to come with a good plan and on all these fronts the initiative is with Bristol.

"He needs to make the case for it and say why this is in the interests of the country as well as Bristol and if he can make that compelling case he has a champion in me to advance that throughout Whitehall."

'More powers'

But the former leader of Bristol City Council and Liberal Democrat councillor Barbara Janke had words of caution for the mayor. She often negotiated with Westminster during her eight years in charge.

She said: "I think sometimes we feel that the will is there with the ministers but once it gets in the hands of the civil servants it's much more difficult to actually establish those new powers.

"But, I'm very much hoping this is the start of Bristol getting more powers in some of these areas."

The devolution of powers from Westminster is just one item for the mayor's overflowing in-tray.

As well as establishing a good link with London, he must start talking to surrounding authorities about how his proposed changes to major transport schemes could affect them.

He must also attend to the matter of the three empty seats on his cross-party cabinet after the recent Labour walkout, and the expanding hole in the budget which must go out to consultation before Christmas.

The mayoral election earlier this month already seems a long time ago.

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