In his 2017 State of the City Address, Mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees put forward his delivery plan to implement his vision for Bristol. In 2018 he looked to the future, setting out how his administration is delivering against key pledges. The following is a transcript of his speech, taken from the Bristol Mayor blog.

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Good evening …

My annual address is a very important moment in the year for me because it’s my opportunity to talk and connect directly with the city.

This evening I want to cover the progress we have made over the last two years, show you how we have delivered on our pledges and set out the aspirations we have been growing for Bristol. I also want to take a little time to share some personal reflections on the quality of the political activism, debate and commentary that Bristol is subject to.

COUNCIL

I’ll start with Bristol City Council.

In September we opened our doors to a Local Government Association Peer Challenge. We wanted an objective and expert assessment of the council undertaken at the midpoint of my administration. The team they sent was drawn from across the country.   It was made up of Labour and Conservative councillors and senior local authority officers.   They spent more than 460 hours talking with over 200 people including staff, local and national partners and opposition councillors.

In the executive summary of their report which will be published in the coming weeks, they say:

Bristol City Council is laying the foundations to underpin its improvement journey. The ambitious and collaborative leadership the Mayor has shown for the city is warmly welcomed by the council’s partners. BCC has recently appointed a new senior officer leadership team which collectively has the potential to set a positive direction for the council’s workforce. Two years ago the council was facing a funding crisis and commissioned an external review to assess its root causes and make recommendations to address them. Two years on the council’s financial management and grip is stronger.

The sense of ambition for Bristol as a city is clearly evident and many stakeholders we spoke with talked variously about their hope and optimism for the future. 

To appreciate the significance of these findings, I must remind you of where we were two years ago.

When I arrived at City Hall in May 2016, I knew there would be challenges. The council had earned a reputation of non-delivery.   We were taking charge under a government committed to austerity and Brexit was on the march.   I was, however, hopeful and committed to delivering the fresh approach the city needed. After all, why stand for election unless you know you can bring improvement.

But no-one could have anticipated the organisational dysfunction we were inheriting.

The scale of the challenge was set out in the review we commissioned into council governance and finance, after we’d found a £30million hole in the budget.   We commissioned an expert and objective assessment of exactly what was going on.

The report titled “an independent report on our financial deficit in 2016/17” was written by Steve Bundred, former CEO of the National Audit Office.

It was published in February 2017 and subsequently became known simply as “Bundred”.

Let me briefly read you some of his comments:

  • “An entire annual budget – 2016/17 – approved on the basis of a “false” assumption that previously-agreed cuts had been fully carried out and savings delivered…and an assumption that a balanced outturn would probably be achieved can at best be described as artful.”
  • A “tacit understanding” among the senior leadership team that contentious decisions should not be asked of politicians before the elections in May 2016.
  • Even those senior officers who have raised concerns with me appear to have very little awareness of what a first class local authority looks like

Mr Bundred concluded by saying “I am in no doubt that the sequence of events described in this report represents a collective failure of leadership within the Council for which several people, including elected politicians, bear responsibility”.

Having a local authority that is competent is one of those unfairly unbalanced things in life. It’s rarely noticed and it doesn’t fill people with joy when it’s delivered. But it is certainly noticed and people pay a heavy price when it’s not because leaders have no foundation from which to deliver. The 2018 report into the failed Northamptonshire council said “never underestimate the importance of doing the boring well.”

And I am delighted that we have my deputy Mayor Craig Cheney who leads on our finances and is the master of doing the boring very well.

Back to this month and the 2018 LGA panel also have reported that they found

  • A real sense of ambition for the City and the Council – a new direction
  • The Mayor sets the tone of vision and collaboration, working with external partners
  • A new and impressive senior officer leadership team ready to deliver change
  • A set of new values and behaviours – a change from the past

Of course there remain serious challenges and areas for improvement, but they find “The council is now in a stronger position to take the critical decisions the city of Bristol needs to fulfill its exceptional potential.”

CITY

As crucial as all that is, modern city and mayoral leadership must be about more than the local authority because what you all receive from Bristol is not the result of the decisions of any single organisation.

What you and all citizens experience as Bristol, is the product of the combination of decisions made across local government, the NHS, police, universities, businesses, voluntary community sector, faith communities… If we are going to lead a place, we need to work as though that is true.

The challenge is one of how we come together to turn what could be a chaotic mass of activity into an organised collaboration.

It’s in this context that Chief Constable Andy Marsh’s words really cut through: “world class public leadership is not about what you control but what you influence.”

The LGA peer challenge team also looked closely at our relationships with the city.   Among their conclusions, they reported:

  • You have a good understanding of Bristol as a place and the extraordinary opportunities it offers
  • Developing the One City approach has shown real ambition – driven through ‘convene and ask’ by Mayor and council, with partners: clearly work in progress but still much to do

It’s been our aim to work with the city not against it, around it, despite it or irrespective of it.   We are maturing into an enabling organisation, making space and supporting people to get things done rather than caught in the bottleneck of council processes. It’s an empowerment approach that recognises that we are interdependant and requires the council to be more than a mere provider of services and become a development partner.

Barack Obama said “the strongest democracy flourishes from frequent and lively debate but endures when people of every background and belief find a way to set aside smaller differences in service of a greater purpose”.

We are setting aside smaller differences to focus on collective delivery.

We are working with city partners towards a one City Plan driving toward a jointly shaped One City Vision for 2050, that will bring focus to what we do.

The plan will enable us to pursue the Bristol we want to be rather than being on the back foot trying to make the best of whatever opportunity or challenge happens our way.

A perfect example of the collaboration is the work between the Mayor’s office, Bristol and Bath Regional Capital and Quartet. In the spring we will launch a city fund that could generate millions of pounds of ethical investment and provide a platform for benefactors to step forward to support their own city. This shows a real scale of ambition to transform the city and the board is already progressing hunger programmes, community cohesion and economic inclusion.

It’s this scale of collaboration that presents the city the opportunity to move beyond the shallow analysis and short termism driven by the party politics played out in the council chamber. This is the stuff of substance in contrast to the political gestures and symbolism we see regularly.

The work we are doing will survive me and will open a door for future leaders to work with the city. 2020 will be a good time to get elected. The winner will inherit a city plan, a structure and a culture of collective city leadership tuned to delivery… and I might add a solvent local authority.

These achievements offer to fundamentally change the city by changing the way it is led.

They are real achievements but I know I will primarily get measured against my own pledges to the city, as set out for the election of 2016.    So let’s turn to those.

PLEDGES

Harold Wilson said “a week is a long time in politics”, and it’s true. But it’s also true that four years is too short to deliver the scale of programme we have been putting together

Political leadership is like trying to drive a car at 100mph while servicing the engine, laying the tarmac and reading the map. This is especially so, in light of the challenges we inherited. It doesn’t make the headlines but it’s critical to put the building blocks in place for future success.

I made 7 pledges to the city.

So in the absence of our own mid-term elections, take what follows as my own mid-term report.

Pledge 1 We will build 2,000 new homes – 800 affordable – a year by 2020.

This is our number one priority and we are doing pretty well. Even Mark Weston, the leader of the opposition in Bristol, acknowledged this. In Bristol, where we live in a world of political point scoring, you know you’re getting something right when the official opposition says you are.

My favourite Post headline this year was ‘Marvin set to smash his housing target’ and as that article referenced, 2000 homes per year and 800 affordable by 2020 was always ambitious but we are on track to deliver in full.

With no existing affordability programme in place, we had a standing start. But in this year, we expect to complete 1886 homes, with 271 affordable.

In 2019-20, we expect to complete 2308 market rate homes, with 499 affordable

and by the target year of 2020, we expect to build 1533 market rate homes and 916 affordable.

Working with my cabinet colleague, Paul Smith, last week around 100 developers and investors gathered at the Mshed for the launch of our new “Bristol is” prospectus which sets out our development ambitions.

They came because they recognise we are a city that is at long last getting homes built and they are bought into our commitment on building affordable homes in mixed communities in an inclusive economy.

There are plenty who want to come on that journey with us.

Of course there are those who just want to make a fast buck and not invest in the city and its people. They will find themselves at the back of the queue.

As part of our ambitions in this area, we have launched our own housing company. This is another tool that will enable us to build houses where the market doesn’t provide the right solutions and re-invest profits in affordable and social housing.

And because of the scale of the housing challenge and because we need the courage to reimagine and to rethink, we are launching a five year housing festival, this week on waterfront square.

Please visit. You’ll experience some of the latest innovations and technology offering step change in the way we do housing.

The festival is being led by Jez Sweetland in partnership with ourselves, Homes England and the Shaftesbury Partnership. It’s focussing the world’s attention on Bristol.

Pledge 2 We will deliver work experience and apprenticeships for every young person.

The opportunity for young people to have a meaningful experience of work is a key factor in setting a life trajectory. It is shocking that 56% of our young people were not getting access to work experience in 2016.

The proverb says “It takes a village to raise a child”. I want to build on that to say it will take a whole city to meet this challenge.

That’s why in 2017 we launched the “Bristol works” initiative. We are matching employers offering work experience with young people searching for opportunity.  Last year, 51 employers came forward and 2477 young people benefitted.

Bristol’s Learning City Partnership enables collaborative working between employers, universities, colleges and schools on issues such as development of skills and careers guidance and tailored experiences of work, led by my cabinet lead, Cllr Anna Keen.

Bristol is now one of 5 national Apprenticeship Diversity Hubs, working to create an increasingly diverse workforce – and next week there is a  ‘You’re Hired’ event planned in the Galleries.   So much more positive than the “you’re fired” culture propagated by television. This year, 6000 job seekers have attended a job fair or advice day.

And we have 3 programmes to better improve our diversity talent pipelines.

‘Future Bright’, providing in-work career development for people living in council housing.

‘Stepping up’ a BME talent development programme,  expanding to women and disabled people.

And the ‘City Leadership Programme’, investing in people from disadvantaged social and economic backgrounds

And we are proud to have become the first council in the country to Ban the Box on our application process – opening up employment for ex-offenders.

All this work is about more than social justice. It’s in the city’s interests to not leave talent on the shelf.

Pledge 3 We will stop expansion of RPZs and review existing schemes.

Residential parking schemes were the flavour of the campaign in 2016 and so each candidate took a turn in having a pledge. We delivered the review, putting councillors at the forefront and we remain open to changes should ward councillors demonstrate overwhelming support in the community.

But, even as I made the pledge, I saw it is a by-product of the poor quality political discourse and absence of political vision at that time.  I have carried out the pledge in full but it in no way reflects our transport priorities.

No administration for years, has taken transport seriously. There have been efforts to improve cycling and walking but it remains difficult to travel from A to B.   Communities in areas such as Hartcliffe, Avonmouth and Hillfields remain disconnected. Congestion adversely impacts on the city‘s economy and air quality.

We will not repeat the errors of recent years in pretending that cars will disappear if we make life difficult for car drivers, nor will we ignore the economic impact when we do transport planning.

But we will have an impact on congestion and on people movement by presenting real choice. We must generate mass transit options that are better, cheaper and easier than car travel.

Thanks to the efforts of my cabinet lead, Mhairi Threlfall, we have our Bristol Transport Strategy out to consultation, outlining  our vision to 2036

We have seen the order of the biggest single biogas bus order in the UK, and we are leading the way on smart ticketing and contactless payments.  7 out of 10 passengers NOW board the bus using these payment methods

The key outcomes of the Congestion Task Group are being implemented, including the creation of a Transport Board that will bring together key city transport partners, to work more closely with the city council for future planning.

But most importantly, we have a flightpath for a phased growth of public transport. The first strand of that growth will be looking at a new deal for bus use.

I can announce tonight that we are in the process of working towards a Heads of an Agreement that sets out a joint relationship based on long term and sustained public and private investment in the bus system.

Working with our partners in the West of England, the aim of the agreement will be to double bus usage to 20% of all journeys, through:

  • Enhanced service frequencies on the core network, doubling the frequency on main routes.
  • Greater Service stability through increased enforcement of bus lanes and highway improvements
  • Use of new technology to inform where services are most delayed
  • Extension of quality and frequency services into less well served areas.

And, a single flat fare zone, covering the whole city. Because of Bristol’s geography, the less affluent parts of the city currently pay more than the wealthier areas to travel to and from the city centre. FirstBus and ourselves have agreed that we will work towards a standard fare across the city, bringing equality to bus travel.

I announced ambitions for a new mass transit system for Bristol on this night last year. The first feasibility study was positive and we will get the results of the second more advanced study in December.

At this point, I should be clear what we are talking about before anyone publishes their own version of the London underground map.  We’re not talking about the London tube with 200 meter long trains. A key element of what makes it possible and quicker is we may not even need rails or track – some automated systems around the world just run by following a simple white line painted on the floor.

But we are clearly planning for a segregated, mass transit system using tunnels and infrastructure appropriate for Bristol’s future needs.

Pledge 4 We will protect children’s centres.

And we have. It’s been a triumph of city leadership and labour values in the face of conservative austerity.  We invested £1.8m in remodelling children’s services which included supporting Children’s Centres to extend their influence and support an increase in joint working with our families.

And we launched the Children’s charter for which I thank Helen Godwin, my innovative cabinet Lead for Children’s Services.  The charter is the city’s first set of aspirations for children, clearly laid out with a delivery plan for each.

Over 20 organisations, as well as families and children, across the city signed up their support at the Bristol Play Day in August and last week Jeremy Corbyn signed it too.

The charter sets out a commitment to every child irrespective of their background.  It recognizes the fact that what children receive from our city is one of the surest measures of our values.

And although we didn’t pledge it, our Better Lives programme is transforming the most under pressure area of adult social care, led by my cabinet lead, Helen Holland.  The programme keeps people in their homes longer and makes the service more efficient.

Pledge 5 We will increase the number of school places and introduce a fair admission process.

We have secured a site in Temple Quarter for what will be Bristol’s biggest secondary school and we are working with partners for a new school in Lockleaze while expanding existing schools for more places.

Three years ago, Bristol was ranked the worst for school attendance in the whole of the UK.   We set out improvements and only last week we held a summit at City Hall with over 100 education partners, sharing best practice and developing a strategy that includes robust guidance on mental health, support and a focus on vulnerable children.

Pledge 6 We will put Bristol on course to be run entirely on clean energy by 2050, and introduce a safe, clean streets campaign.

A very exciting outcome of working towards this pledge has been the launch of the City leap –  a £1 billion package of projects that will transform the way Bristol generates, stores and utilises energy.  We went to market for expression of interest and had 180 submissions from investors across the UK and around the world from the Japanese national bank to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway investment vehicle.

We have been installing District heating systems, placing new insulation measures in 20 000 council properties and have launched fuel poverty projects across the city.

On clean streets, we’ve mobilized over 3000 volunteers and introduced fines with over 10,000 being issued to date.

Pledge 7 We will lead a European Capital of Culture bid to make culture – and sport – accessible to all

Post the Brexit vote to leave the European Union, it was clear that investing large amounts of money and time in bidding for the EU capital of Culture would be a fruitless venture. But councillor Estella Tinknell saw another opportunity. As well as her ongoing work with the cultural sector to develop the city’s culture strategy, she identified the opportunity to bid to become a UNESCO city of film. And we were successful.

I brought together the media and creative sectors and we worked together to pitch for Channel 4’s re-location and we remain shortlisted in the final 6

And we have taken a similar approach to bid for NetFlix, who are looking for UK bases and we are looking at what we can do to position Bristol as a hub for production studios, a real opportunity in the creative marketplace.

We have committed to funding phase 2 of Colston Hall redevelopment, saving this key cultural hub in the city as well as supporting successful developments of St Georges and the Old Vic.

On sport, I like to quote my cabinet lead, Kye Dudd, who said “this is without doubt, the most pro sport administration the city has ever seen”.   He’s right and we continue to work with our professional clubs and the sporting sector to bring world class sporting events, grow participation and develop elite athletes.

SUMMARY

Of course my mid-term report is positive but I wrote it.  Joking aside though, you can test it by looking at the city, talking to partners and reading the reports.

REAL DELIVERY

Beyond the pledges is a whole raft of major plans we are delivering on.

We are re-working our Bristol Local Plan, led by my cabinet lead, Nicola beech.   It’s a blueprint for future land use, finding the space for the additional 33,500 new homes and employment land the city needs.   Jobs and affordable housing are at it’s heart as is the importance of maintaining community and diverse economies.

Consultation is planned for early next year and we have had some helpful early responses on twitter.

Local campaigner, Matthew Montagu-Pollock said

I know from my own experience that there’s no way that towers provide an equivalent quality of life to a house or a mid-rise flat with a communal garden… Our mayor came from a poor background and looked up and saw the high rises of London and Manchester and thought: That is the answer – aspirational cities build high.   But it is an uneducated answer.

Well Thanks for your input, Matthew… I will take that on board.

Western Harbour

On this very stage last year, I announced the development of the Western harbour that will expand the city centre to the West, creating a new residential district.   It will deliver over 2500 new homes in a mixed use site.

Planning work is now under way for the replacement of the ageing and outdated roads and bridges with a new transport layout that will include the moving of the bridge or possibly even, replacing it with a tunnel.

City Centre Revitalisation

Towns and City Centres are changing rapidly as shopping habits, leisure pursuits, work patterns and travel choices continue to evolve. These challenges present a threat but also an opportunity to re-model and re-shape the city centre to make sure it serves the city’s aspirations.

We have pulled together a working group of city partners and investors, determined to secure the city centre.  I have asked them to work with the leaders of all major developments including the airport, Temple Meads and university.

We must ensure we are ahead of the curve if we are keeping Bristol as a retail and leisure hub both for the day time and night time economies. For future city centres to stay alive, we need to bring people to them and our planning will be centred around mixed developments including affordable homes, retail, entertainment and jobs.

Temple Meads

We continue to work towards the re-development of Temple Meads. We have appointed a multi-disciplinary team, led by Mott MacDonald.  This will allow us and partners to masterplan this city gateway, unlock development in the surrounding area and support neighbouring projects including the university campus and the Temple Island development.

This work also supports our £250 million Housing Infrastructure Bid.

Communities

And of course we need cohesive communities.

Returning to the recent LGA review, they noted: We see a council developing a new conversation with its communities

And I am delighted that Deputy Mayor, Asher Craig is leading that conversation.

We are committed to our communities, and supporting them to flourish.

We are working with Paul Hassan and others on how we use the councils land and property assets to address inequality and disadvantage, changing the way we procure and commission services to strengthen our network of community anchors.

We are harnessing the efforts of key partners from across the city. Partners including Locality, Voscur and Quartet, as well as funding agencies such as BBRC and Power to Change, alongside the city’s  business community are investing in the capacity of these key community organisations. Together, we are developing community led housing, community enterprise infrastructure and space to tackle public health and educational and skills needs.

I want to mention a few people:

Alex Kittow and his team in Southmead who are working on the Glencoyne Square project.

Mark Pepper at Ambition Lawrence Weston for locally designed housing and renewable energy.

Joanna Holmes and the Barton Hill Settlement team providing better services in partnership with the Wellspring Centre.

Carolyn Hassan in Knowle West driving innovative approaches to housing, manufacture and digital inclusion.

Filwood Community centre and their low carbon hub.

Steve Sayers with new social enterprises at Windmill Hill city farm.

We are privileged to have so many great people in the city. Our challenge is to get out of their way and support them to get done what they want to get done.

ARENA AND DISCOURSE

And I must mention the arena. Having completed a value for money review, I made the decision not to proceed with the arena on Temple Island. Let me take this opportunity to set out how the decision was made:

The decision we had to make was for the best use of Temple Island. The evidence showed us that the alternative mixed use development put half a billion pounds more into the economy and generated 3 times as many jobs as the arena.

A temple island arena would have paid 400 thousand pounds a year in business rates. The mixed use development will pay approximately three million pounds a year in business rates and council tax.

The flawed transport plan would have brought 3500 cars each sell out night, into Temple Meads with nowhere to park.

The arena was too small to qualify as world class.

And the proximity of the Temple Island arena to the train station was a security liability.

The Temple Island arena could only be delivered with £150 million of public debt that we would have to re-pay.

The arena was a perfect example of a flawed political discourse in the city. It was a discourse that portrayed as a binary choice between like for like options that never existed, because each option came with dramatically different levels of risk and financial consequences.  Someone once said that the problems start when people see decisions as two choices when most people see the answer as somewhere in the middle.

If there are people who want to exploit this and put the public money and risk to one side, they are doing so for political gain, not for the good of our city.  If there are people who see it as a totemic issue to campaign or even stand for election on, and some are clearly launching their campaigns early, then they are selling the city short. We have complex challenges and social media commentators want to promote unrealistic, simplistic options.   We don’t have that luxury and must make evidence based decisions driven by inclusive economic growth and fairness.

GPOM AND INTERNATIONAL

Our international work and profile has been supporting the growth of trade and investment in the city and building our reputation as an internationally significant city. Last year I announced I would bring the Global Parliament of Mayors to Bristol and this week, we will host over 80 mayors and the world’s leading city networks, coming together to drive the development of national and international policy on migration, urban health and security.

And we will of course, be showcasing Bristol and UK key industries.

All of this is essential as we navigate the government’s mis-management of Brexit. And as part of our work in that area, I can announce tonight we will be funding the costs of any of our own employees who wish to seek EU settled status.   And I would encourage other employers to join with us.

Drawing on Bristol’s diversity and internationalism, I have invited some key Bristol figures to be international ambassadors for the city. These are people who already travel the world in their line of work. As official Bristol Ambassadors, we will add to their ability to present our city to different international audiences.

So, tonight I have invited

Well known local artist, DJ Bungy, also known as Ivor Anderson

Knowle West Media Centre’s innovative Carolyn Hassan

And Bristol’s Boxing legend, Chris Sanigar

To be our first city international ambassadors.

Conclusion

As I have laid out tonight, this city is changing and together we are making real progress.

We have grown TRUST, with the government. Several different government departments tell us Bristol has been a basket case for decades and they now feel that we are focussed on delivery and can do business with us. We have built trust with city partners, with community groups and with investors who want to work with us.  We have built trust with the universities and schools, business and unions.    And by delivering on our promises and on transformation of the city then we are building trust with our citizens.

We are taking decisions with RESPONSIBILITY. It’s because of our financial responsibility and our fiscal management that we are able to deliver. And by balancing the budget, and smart use of reserves, we have been able to avoid implementing the big cuts, have kept children’s centres open, will keep libraries open and have kept and are starting to improve key services.

Many of my political opponents treat public money like monopoly money. I do not.   Council tax payers often struggle to pay that bill.  When you have a choice of paying your council tax, putting food on the table or money on the electric key, then you deserve to have that money treated with respect and this administration, is alone among the political players in Bristol in taking that approach.

By cutting £1million from council senior management costs, refusing to use public money on vanity projects and by prioritising adults, families and children, our responsible approach to city management means we can deliver on our promises and our pledges.

And finally, in a city where the public narrative for decades, has been ‘nothing gets done’, recognised by the  LGA review team who noted:

If the council builds upon the foundations it is establishing then such perceptions will be replaced by belief, hope and trust in the council and its leadership – and it will lead to real change for Bristol.

We are now delivering.

Delivering with a council leadership dedicated to delivery and responsive to the elected priorities

Delivering with the council and city partners, working together for a common aim for the first time ever.

Delivering with people like you, who are here tonight because you care about our city.

Delivering, because instead of playing political games and focussing on personal attacks, we are focussing on the things that matter for Bristol.

No one person can change a city on their own. The council alone, cannot deliver change, inclusive growth, close the inequality gap, deliver services, volunteer, and make a difference.   We will only make that difference by pulling together.

And I have had enough of people talking down our city.   With a positive attitude and collaboration to common goals, we will deliver.

We are building a city where nobody gets left behind.

Together, we are building a city of hope.

Thank you.

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