Bristol Mayor election Q&A: The candidates who want your vote in May

April 05 2021
Bristol Mayor election Q&A: The candidates who want your vote in May

BRISTOL will vote for its next Mayor on May 6.

The Bristol Mayor is in overall charge of the city council's cabinet and administration, policy, strategy and spending plans.

In many respects the elected Mayor is also the public face of the city, speaking on issues in the media and lobbying government in Bristol's interests.

Both the mayoral and council elections were postponed last year due to the first lockdown, which means they now coincide with the elections for the West of England Mayor and the Police and Crime Commissioner.

Running for re-election this year for Labour is Marvin Rees, who has been his party's candidate in all three polls so far, losing the first in 2012 to independent George Ferguson, before winning in 2016.

The Conservatives were third five years ago. This year their candidate is Alastair Watson, a former city councillor, cabinet member and Lord Mayor.

The Greens, fourth in 2016, have selected Sandy Hore-Ruthven, a charity chief executive.

Medical science consultant Dr Caroline Gooch is the Liberal Democrats' candidate.

The mayoral system of running the council remains controversial. Supporters say it is the best way of making decisions and getting things done, while opponents claim it places too much power in one person's hands and shuts out councillors.

Two of the parties with candidates in this year's election – the Tories and Liberal Democrats – say the role should be abolished.

The elected Mayor of Bristol is a separate role to the Lord Mayor, a ceremonial position filled each year by one of the city's councillors.

As they ask you to vote them into a new job, the Voice asked each mayoral candidate, from the parties who had informed us they were contesting the election, to answer four interview questions to find out more about who they are, their priorities and plans.

Their answers appear in alphabetical order, rotating with each question.

What are the 3 biggest issues facing the city?


Caroline Gooch (above): Recovery from the pandemic comes first and foremost. My background as a scientist and in business gives me the perfect combination of experiences to lead the city’s recovery, both from a health perspective and economically. The climate crisis requires urgent action, and we must play our part in this global challenge. The third is social justice: we must tackle the housing crisis, ensure high-equality education, and prioritise diversity and inclusion to give every individual an equal opportunity to succeed.

Sandy Hore-Ruthven: The key challenge is to recover our economy and make sure we don’t suffer high rates of unemployment and an economic slump after the pandemic. My plan for our economic recovery will create 10,000 new jobs and invest in local businesses. I will prioritise cutting congestion and improving public transport. I will invest £6m annually in our buses, a cycle network for Bristol and better pedestrian routes. Housing continues to be the other main issue, with rents and prices rising. 

Marvin Rees: Jobs. Post Covid, we will need to build back better with a sustainable, inclusive recovery, as part of the One City Plan.

Homes. After the slowdown of housebuilding from Brexit and Covid, we will accelerate past our targets of 2000 homes per year including 1000 affordable, building communities and improving outcomes for all.

Transport. We will prioritise public transport and active travel, building a low carbon mass transit system that will transform the way people move around the city.

Alastair Watson: More homes and better housing – I will work closely with developers to bring forward those developments that provide affordable housing and deliver the next generation of council housing.

Better transport – I will work with neighbouring councils to deliver our rail ambitions and improve bus services across the city.

Economic recovery from Covid – the city centre is the beating heart of Bristol, along with all our smaller suburban high streets, and we must do everything we can to ensure their survival.

If you win the election, what would your first action be?

Sandy Hore-Ruthven (above): I will put my economic recovery plan into place. It includes support for young people to get into work, investment in our local high streets, creative and hospitality businesses.  In the long term I will create jobs through building 2,000 new council homes and insulating the existing stock – creating 10,000 new jobs and reducing emissions. 

Marvin Rees: Thank Bristol for their support and get back to work with the city to deliver the One City Plan including the climate and ecological plans. We’ll keep on facing up to the key challenges and driving the change Bristol needs.

Alastair Watson: I will work with businesses to produce a practical plan to assist those badly affected by Covid. Our retail, hospitality and leisure businesses have really suffered over the last 12 months and it is essential the council supports them.

Caroline Gooch: I would find specialist school places for the 250 children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) with no specialist school place for September. Every child deserves to have their needs met, so this is a major priority.

What prior experience do you believe qualifies you for the job?

Marvin Rees (above): I grew up here experiencing the best and worst of the city. I worked here: NHS, voluntary sector, BBC. Five years as mayor, delivering on homes, jobs, climate and ecology; facing the pandemic and austerity. I’ve got Bristol working together.

Alastair Watson: I have served as a Bristol city councillor and been Lord Mayor, so I know the whole city and understand how the council works. My background in business means I will make pragmatic decisions, ensuring less waste.

Caroline Gooch: As a scientist, with 20 years’ experience in business, I’ve worked with masses of information, the NHS, and budget constraints. 20 years as a rowing cox, rowing umpire, and residential tutor taught me to make difficult decisions and lead teams.

Sandy Hore-Ruthven: I have been a CEO for 15 years, growing a small East Bristol Charity to the largest of its kind. We support tens of thousands of young people, employ hundreds of staff and have brought derelict buildings back to life.


Is the balance of power between the Bristol Mayor, councillors, Metro Mayor and government right?

Alastair Watson (above): The Bristol Mayor has too much power and cannot be held to account during their term of office. With the West of England Mayor in place and all-out elections for councillors, there is no need for an elected Bristol Mayor.

Caroline Gooch: No. The Bristol Mayor has too much power, rendering the councillors voiceless. The narrower, more strategic remit of the Metro Mayor can benefit our city without us needing the Bristol Mayor. More devolution away from government would empower our communities. 

Sandy Hore-Ruthven: No, the Mayor needs to be more accountable to the Council and I have plans to change the balance of power. I will have a cross party cabinet, strengthen scrutiny and abide by Council votes on large scale developments.

Marvin Rees: No. Government needs to release powers and funds to cities, who are far better placed to work with their communities on 21st century challenges, to enable us to properly plan and work for the city's best interests.