By Emily Koch (Twitter: @EmilyKoch22)
The role has cost the city more than £800,000 in the past five years, new figures have revealed.
The costs – obtained by the Evening Post under the Freedom of Information Act – include the Lord Mayor’s allowance, the costs of his staff, the maximum clothing allowance for him and his partner, hospitality, travel and the insurance of the civic plate and chain.
Bristol City Council says the figures cannot take into account the “priceless” value the role brings to the city each year, although it is known that the Lord Mayor’s charity has raised about £45,000 a year over the five-year period.
The current Lord Mayor, Councillor Colin Smith, revealed to the Post that the council was looking into finding a way to fund the role completely from the profits gained by letting out the Mansion House for conferences and weddings in the future.
He said: “One of the things we are looking at is how we can bring in more money by using the Mansion House in this way, to see how we can fund the mayoralty without any cost to the public.
“We all recognise that we are in difficult economic circumstances, but it is important that not only do we hang on to the services that the council provides – such as libraries – but also that we use a very small part of the money generated by council tax to sustain the legacy and heritage of the city.
“If you dispense with the position of Lord Mayor, you will never, ever get it back.”
The Lord Mayor devotes most of his or her time to the promotion of the city, key initiatives of the council and supporting a wide range of Bristol based organisations. In carrying out this role, the Lord Mayor undertakes about 800 engagements a year – from major Royal visits to small community group meetings and local charity events.
The Lord Mayor also chairs the meeting of the full council, but the post is a ceremonial one which does not carry direct power.
The figures released show that £811,739.53 has been spent on the role between 2005 and 2010 – covering two years with Peter Abraham as Lord Mayor, one year with Royston Griffey and two with Chris Davies. It does not include the current year.
Each year the Lord Mayor gets a special allowance on top of the allowance he or she receives for being a councillor, to reflect their responsibilities over and above their role as a ward councillor.
In 2009/10 Mr Davies received £20,052.93 – nearly twice the figure paid to Mr Abraham in 2005/6.
The costs in the table show the costs of staff directly linked to the Lord Mayor – £531,330 over the five years.
They split their time between working for the Lord Mayor himself and helping to run the Mansion House as a banqueting business.
The Lord Mayor’s secretary spends 50 per cent of his time on Lord Mayor business; the assistant Lord Mayor’s secretary spends all of their time on Lord Mayor business; of three chauffeurs, one spends 90 per cent of their time working for the Lord Mayor while the other two spend 30 per cent of their time doing so; and one administration officer spends 40 per cent of his time working for the Lord Mayor.
A clothing allowance of £3,000 is given to the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress or Consorts, but is only paid against receipts; and about £400 is spent each year on insuring the Civic plate and Lord Mayor’s chain.
The Lord Mayor has no personal allowance for food or hospitality, but the £144,100 spent over the five years on hospitality was used for events the council wanted the Lord Mayor to host such as freedom and homecoming parades.
The amount spent on travel over the five years has gone up and down over the years between £5,184 and £11,327 but a council spokesperson said there was no particular reason for the fluctuations.
The most expensive year out of the five at £172,902.31 was 2007/8 when Mr Griffey held the office, with the least expensive being Mr Abraham’s second year as Lord Mayor at £151,490.
Mr Smith said: “The position of Lord Mayor helps to promote Bristol internationally, and helps to bring inward investment into the city. It creates prosperity and employment for our citizens. Recently I hosted a delegation coming from China, who want to invest in the UK, and who are looking at various cities. They won’t come to Bristol unless they meet the Lord Mayor – that is just their cultural tradition.
“They want to meet the city’s leader – I don’t class myself as the city’s leader but that is the way they see it. It is difficult to actually say how much money comes out of that or how many jobs. It could create investment in two weeks, two years or ten years.”
The Evening Post contacted all three former Lord Mayors, but Mr Abraham and Mr Griffey declined to comment.
Mr Davies said: “The role of the Lord Mayor is of incalculable benefit to the city, and to the people of Bristol.”
A spokesperson for the TaxPayers’ Alliance said: “It’s up to taxpayers in Bristol to decide whether or not they think a Lord Mayor is worth what they pay for him.
“However, it is worrying that the total cost has shot up so drastically in just a couple of years. The Lord Mayor should, as far as possible, endeavour to keep costs down. It’s unreasonable for extra allowances and hospitality spending to go up at a time when very necessary spending cuts are being enacted elsewhere.”
What the city council says…
“The Lord Mayor is the first Citizen of the City and County of Bristol.
“There have been mayors in Bristol since 1216 and a Lord Mayor since 1899, following Queen Victoria’s decision to grant Bristol this privilege.
“The actual costs for the office of Bristol’s Lord Mayor are produced annually, they are public, well-documented – and can be found on the council’s website and in council reports.
“But these figures do not tell the real story of the role of Bristol’s Lord Mayor and priceless value the Lord Mayor brings in terms of civic pride and promotion. Nor do the figures reflect the hard work and dedication of each individual Lord Mayor and the massive contribution the Lord Mayor makes to the city, region and even to the country.
“During the Lord Mayor’s term in office, tens of thousands of local people: from toddlers to school children; from young adults to students; from workers on the shop floor to captains of industry and from silver surfers to centenarians are inspired by the Lord Mayor’s public service and commitment to the city and its residents.
“And let’s not forget that the Lord Mayor is president or patron of dozens of charities and organisations and is involved in raising tens of thousand of pounds each year. In Bristol it has been tradition that the Lord Mayor does not have a nominated charity but lend their support to groups across the city. The Lord Mayor’s Christmas Appeal is an independent charity of which the Lord Mayor is its patron, it is run by the service organisations in the city (Rotary, Round Table) and its committee has worked over the years with the Evening Post.
“The Lord Mayor’s office is also responsible for major civic events, which it organises and funds out of its budget, including the Remembrance Day Service of Commemoration at the Cenotaph.
“Finally, each year, our Lord Mayor extends a warm welcome to overseas visitors, from schoolchildren on the Bristol to Bordeaux student exchange to business investors from China. And while no monetary value can be put on this welcome – who can say what benefits there will be next year, the year after or ten years in the future? What we do know is this: Bordeaux exchange students come back with their families and many Chinese students choose Bristol Universities first.
“The people of Bristol are well-served by the Lord Mayor and we’re sure that in 2016, when Bristol marks it 800th year of having a Mayor, people from all corners of the city will join and applaud its first citizen.”