A metro mayor spent £10,000 of taxpayers’ money covering a double decker bus with three massive pictures of himself with his dog, a report has revealed.
Former Labour MP Dan Norris, the elected mayor for the West of England Combined Authority, approved the spending for the advertising to promote a free bus travel scheme around the region.
The double decker bus livery was never shown publicly after the combined authority’s interim chief executive learned of the planned promotion and stopped it – fearing the livery was personally promoting the mayor over the scheme.
In the aftermath, an internal report was commissioned to look at how the £10,000 spending was authorised.
Free travel scheme
The wrap featuring two pictures of the mayor and his dog, called Angel, on either side of the bus and a further image of Mr Norris on the rear of the vehicle was designed to promote a scheme giving people free travel during the month of their birthday.
One image was three metres high, the second two metres high and the third one metre high.
The report stated the “imagery associated with the metro mayor should be merely ‘incidental’ to the main purpose of the spending, which is to promote the bus service improvement plan”.
“Instead, the wrap appears to explicitly seek to affect public support of the metro mayor,” the report noted.
“It seems that the promotion of the bus service improvement plan is incidental to the promotion of the metro mayor himself.
“The bus wrap is reminiscent of political campaign buses which exist to serve the explicit purpose of seeking to influence voters.
“Images of the metro mayor with his dog appear to be used as a personal brand or motif, appearing prominently in several articles featuring the metro mayor but, importantly, in the context of political campaigning platforms such as the VoteDan.uk website and Twitter profile @VoteDanNorris.
“In light of these factors, it is difficult to come to any conclusion other than that the effect of the decision taken on or around April 24 2023 was, in reality, to incur expenditure of £10,000 of public funds not just to launch the birthday fares package initiative, but to promote or seek to affect public support for the metro mayor personally, and this is the conclusion which both the interim monitoring officer and the Section 73 officer have reached.”
“Direct verbal instruction”
An internal investigation found that Mr Norris “issued a direct verbal instruction to procure the wrapping of the bus to an officer within the mayoral office”.
When the interim chief executive learned of the plan, he ordered the bus not to be used and the launch event to be cancelled, but it still went ahead.
“The interim chief executive’s direct and explicit instruction to stand down the May 23 2023 launch event was not followed,” the report stated.
“The officer within the mayoral office that the reviewer spoke to on this point said that the view they took on the risks of proceeding with a launch event differed from the interim chief executive’s view, and that the officer proceeded with an altered launch event on the instructions of the metro mayor.
“That officer did so without further discussion with the interim chief executive.”
An extraordinary meeting of the West of England Combined Authority committee is being held on December 1 to discuss the contents of the report.
The committee will be asked whether it agrees with the findings of the report and also decide “what action, if any, it proposes to take in consequence of the report”.
Committee members are the leaders of the South Gloucestershire and Bath & North East Somerset councils, Bristol’s directly-elected mayor and Mr Norris, although he will not be present when the report is discussed.
Mr Norris was elected as the mayor in 2021 representing the Labour Party having previously been an MP for Wansdyke between 1997 and 2010.