This is a transcript of the State of the City address delivered by Mayor Marvin Rees in Bristol on 18 October 2017 during the Festival of the Future City. The audio recording is available below.

I would like to start with a few thanks…
Labour Party
Labour Councillors
My Office
Council officers – who work hard
Andy Burkitt
Kerry McCarthy – Congratulate
Darren Jones – Congratulate
Mum and Jean, Kirsten
Nan is 95. I want to put it on record that I thank her.
I am increasingly asked if I enjoy the job… I can’t think why! It’s an honour to serve Bristol as Mayor. And thank the people who voted for me.

Last year, I used this speech to outline my desire to close our city’s growing inequality gap and use that aspiration, as a thread connecting all my plans and policies.

Eradicating poverty means putting jobs, homes and transport at the centre of a thriving, inclusive and sustainable economy. It means building a city where we all have hope, the highly educated and those with few academic qualifications, those who come here from outside whether as students, migrants or refugees and those whose families have roots in the city going back generations… those born into wealthy families in wealthy wards and those born in those parts of our city that are amongst the most deprived

This must be a city where talent, work, opoprtunity and the city’s compassion rather than the wealth of your parents is the key determinant of your life chances.

In this year’s annual address, I want to look at two things.

Our city performance, our challenges and achievements, and what we are planning to deliver.

And then I want to look at the city in global governance.

Looking at the city performance, I will start with the council. The starting point has to be that we need a council that is of the city in its diversity, a council that doesn’t merely provide services but empowers people and partners, a council that can sometimes stand aside. A council that convenes, listens, asks and enables.

As our inheritance has gradually revealed itself. Alongside government cuts, we faced our own failing financial system, highlighted by the Bundred report, and a tendency to kick difficult decisions down the road. Having asked my deputy Mayor, Craig Cheney to deliver a rigorous financial system that provides transparency, and placed the Finance Director in the leadership team, balancing the budget remains tough but we will do it with clarity and our values. I am grateful to Craig and finance director Denise Murray for their commitment. I also want to thank the wider council team.

I have announced the re-structure of a streamlined management team that will save the council three quarters of a million pounds a year and am working with staff to introduce a set of organisational values, a philosophy of work that will take us toward being the development organisation we need to be.

Nobody is going to vote for us because of it (although you can if you want to) but One of the most important things we can do is bring a council that’s financially competent.

My experience has led me to reflect on the nature of political leadership. The city elects its political leaders, all councillors of all parties. Some have fallen into a tired mis-understanding that political leadership means scoring cheap points, tripping up the Mayor with a tricky question (or not so tricky maybe), or to take debate into the weeds of council processes.

The city elected you for leadership, not placard politics, and again tonight, I say to all parties, you have three years before election, step aside from party divides and come and tell me what you want to achieve, work with me and the Labour group to get it done. If results are more important to you than headlines, we will make space for you.

We face a very well publicised budget challenge but we are not alone. Every council now has a ‘graph of doom’ that shows the funding gap created by austerity versus the rising costs of adult social care and children’s services. After a decade of austerity, the UK is heading rapidly towards the bottom of the league table on public spending.

We are left balancing the need to protect life and limb crisis services against the need to invest in early interventions such as children’s centres and mental health which pay off over the medium term and in turn, against non-service areas such as the city’s cultural offer.

I am sometimes asked to set a ‘no cuts’ budget, effectively a budget that doesn’t balance, or use reserves or borrow. I feel the temptation as austerity is a mistaken philosophy for both moral and strategic reasons, is hurting people and undermining our economy. But the no cuts budget is flawed.

First, we would of course, cede political control of our city to unelected officials from Westminster.

Second, on the use of reserves and borrowing, this is an ephemeral solution and each year, will effectively worsen the situation, although we do use some reserves.

Third, the argument for an unbalanced budget misses a vital fact: that the council is integral to the health of the wider economy and a failure to manage our finances would damage the city’s reputation and undermine the confidence of government, private sector and international investors. The developers we need to build our homes would withdraw, the major infrastructure schemes we are planning would struggle to secure the finance needed and the ability to grow our economy would be undermined. The price the people of Bristol would pay through lost growth and lost jobs would be greater than the total value of the services the advocates of an illegal budget are fighting to protect.

So I say again clearly tonight, I will set a balanced budget during my administration. While I continue to point out the damage being caused by austerity and campaign for a better deal from government, the city cannot afford for us to carry forward the attitude of previous administrations of kicking difficult decisions down the road.

Any sportsperson will tell you that leadership is refined in the willingness to step up and deliver when times are against you. We will not back off when most needed and as one of the city’s most impressive councillors and human beings, Marg Hickman, said, “we will take 100% responsibility for the decision to get elected”.

So, we face those well publicised financial challenges but it would be wrong to see the council just through the lens of decline. Public spending and the workers who deliver the outcome of that spend make a huge contribution to the city, with a billion pound presence. We often overlook the impact we are really having, bringing Labour values of fairness and equality of opportunity.

Bristol remains the only city to keep the impact fund, investing grants to community organisations of 3.3 million pounds.

And over the last few months, we have been working hard to find the best way forward for local libraries, working with Bristol’s schools, churches, charities, and children’s centres.

Deputy Mayor, Asher Craig has promoted an innovative new model, drawing on our communities’ creativity. That way forward could see library services continue for at least 25 of the 27 areas currently served, including those in the most deprived parts of our city. This would be a remarkable achievement in the reduced spend of 1.4 million pounds.

We are keeping a key pledge I made to the city and plan to keep open all 22 children’s centres, maintaining our commitment to early intervention. We have a vision of children’s centres where we broaden the services and bring in partners to support delivery. This is integral to our focus on tackling inequality.

We are also in the early stages of developing a children’s charter working with partners and children from across the city to develop our pledge to all children, to get off to the best possible start in life. I pay tribute to the imagination and leadership of my cabinet lead for children and young people, Helen Godwin.

We are also the only core city that retains the full council tax reduction scheme, and with the support of my Labour colleagues, for this year at least, will recommend to full council that we retain this scheme intact.

We saved other important elements of the budget, including: passes for carers, community transport, the cascade mental health programme. We have maintained our commitment to being a living wage employer, continued to invest over 5 million pounds per annum in the supporting people intervention budgets and invested over 10 million pounds in homelessness prevention.

Our Learning City project recently accepted a UNESCO progress award for a culture of collaboration in education. Praise came for our strong governance model and the wide range of partners involved in shaping our vision. I thank my Cabinet Lead for Education and Skills, and my favourite Conservative, Claire Hiscott for her leadership and the many schools and education partners who contributed.

As they also did in Project Rainbow, helping young people with special education needs to live independently, again collaboration with City of Bristol College, parents and the young people themselves.

The Bristol Boys project has been established to address the gender underachievement of early age boys; the Bristol Scholar programme has been initiated – 42 scholars started at the University of Bristol, 76% of places offered to students to become the first in their family to progress to higher education, 40% from the free dinners cohort and most from state schools.

Our Works programme has been rolled out. We know that Young adults who have had four or more experiences of work while at school are five times more likely to engage in education, employment and training and earn an average of 16% more than their peers who had no such experience. The programme brings together employers, learning providers and communities and will deliver over 1000 meaningful work experiences in the next year, especially for people from low income households. Contributors include EDF, Bristol green Capital Partnership, the Bottleyard and GENeco.

The Excellence in Schools Group will be submitting joint bids for the £140 million Strategic School Improvement Fund, to support schools most in need, to improve school performance and pupil attainment.

An example I am personally enthused by, is our chess initiative, aiming to boost the number of chess clubs at schools. At City Hall, we hosted our very own chess tournament for primary schools. I am delighted to repeat the words of Kajetan Wandowicz, from Chess in Schools and Communities, the event organiser, who said:

As well as giving children a chance to improve their maths attainment by honing their concentration and special reasoning, it helps to improve social development by teaching children how to move on after making a mistake. Chess is a great leveller – it isn’t bound by age, gender, faith, ethnicity or disability, and it’s a lot of fun to play.

I look forward to meeting one or more of the children again, when they are grand masters.

We have facilitated 154 thousand pounds of grant funding, to 28 community-led projects for clean energy initiatives and we actively promoted the sugar smart campaign.

We had our first Exceptional People In Care awards and we are grateful to the city partners and organisations who sponsored. From education to personal development and other categories in between, the awards showed our appreciation for amazing achievements and encouraged them in their journey towards a successful life, after care.

We have refreshed our Corporate Parenting Strategy, committing the council as a caring and ambitious corporate parent to children in care.

We continue to provide social care for our most vulnerable adult citizens. The Care Act of 2014 brought additional responsibilities for local authorities, while social care budgets have been reduced by 26% over four years – and we have found new ways of making a difference, as well as increasing our social care budgets by over 17 million pounds.

We launched Feeding Bristol as part of Feeding Britain, a national project aiming to end food poverty. We have pulled partners together with a shared aim of a ‘Zero Hunger Bristol.’

We are delivering on another mayoral commitment… Community breakfast clubs have been founded and groups have formed to provide vulnerable children with activities while sharing food and teaching cooking skills.

And we are getting our streets clean. I pledged to clean up Bristol’s streets measurably by 2020, and that campaign has made great strides. Hundreds of people have taken part in community clean ups.

We have put substantial efforts into encouraging people to clean up, including a message in the council tax booklet, a Litter Superheroes Campaign on 1000 bins, digital signs of 170 bus stops, inside 200 buses and on many other sites across the city.

We will introduce a new graffiti policy to tackle the plague of tagging, we have tripled the number of eco-schools and provided litter picking kits to thirty primary and secondary schools. We had the Great Bristol Spring Clean, the ‘Poo Patrol Big Spray Day’ and last weekend saw the start of the Autumn Litter Blitz. I pay tribute to my cabinet lead for waste and energy, Fi Hance, project lead, Kurt James and to all the volunteers who have made an effort, to Bristol Waste Company and to all those who put their own litter in a bin or take it home.

But it hasn’t been enough. 7,000 tonnes of waste costs us 6 million pounds to clear up, money we could spend elsewhere, so tonight, I promise you, we will take enforcement seriously. Starting from the 6th November, enforcement teams will be patrolling the streets issuing £75 fixed penalty notices to people caught dropping litter or leaving dog mess. To offenders who persist in making our city dirty, I say, clean up your act now.

In tandem, the Broadmead BID have given one thousand pounds worth of gifts to the city. These will be randomly handed out to people spotted doing something to clean up Bristol. I thank John Hirst of Destination Bristol for his efforts on this initiative.

No institution can deliver alone. We are truly interdependent. What we can do is create the conditions in which success is more rather than less likely and we increase those chances when we work together.

We have great city partners from the police to the NHS, business, unions, voluntary and education sectors. People consistently come forward in the name of contributing to the common good of the city.

We are fortunate to have strong community anchor organizations across the city, especially those facing the greatest challenges.

I am proud that we have ‘Joanna Holmes and her team at Barton Hill Settlement, providing employment and financial advice, supporting hundreds of families across that area. Alex Kittow and his team at Southmead Development Trust, who, with Mark Pepper at Ambition Lawrence Weston are leading the way in the building of new types of housing, shaped and led by their local communities. Carolyn Hassan at the Knowle West Media Centre promoting innovative approaches to manufacture and digital inclusion. Steve Sayers and his team at Windmill Hill City Farm rolling out new social enterprise and creating volunteering and employment opportunities for local people. Roger Griffith, Paul Hassan, Kevin Philemon, Pat and Sherrie Hart at Ujima Radio and BCfm providing a platform for different voices and Poku Osei at Babbasa offering bespoke mentoring and career guidance for the city’s youth.

One more person I have to mention is someone, who because of the huge amount he does around the city and the sheer level of projects he is involved in, many of you will know, and that is Andy Street. Andy has delivered the hunger programme, has helped to create a modern day Muller Fund, set to finance projects in the city, promoted a debt service and is working with me on establishing a city fund. He is an inspiration and I have no idea where he finds the time.

In the same vein and acknowledging 52% of our citizens help out in their community at least 3 times a year, we have launched a Social Action Plan, to give all our children and young people the best start in life, end Rough Sleeping, create a cleaner and healthier local environment and improve mental health by reducing loneliness and isolation and so much more. To make it easy for everyone to join community action, we have launched the website, Can-Do Bristol, a digital platform designed purely for communities to help themselves, connecting people and businesses to projects looking for help.

I have continued work with Ed Rowberry and Bristol Bath Regional Capital to create a ‘City Fund’, or more accurately a family of city funds. Many local businesses already contribute to national and global projects through corporate social spending and we seek to better co-ordinate those and attract significant additional funding from outside of Bristol.
Several Business, Charity and Civic Leaders have already engaged in the discussion and I have asked the teams at Bristol & Bath Regional Capital and Quartet to help recruit more partners to the initiative. All are welcome.

Let’s return to where I started, with a clear recognition of the key building blocks in a thriving, inclusive city. Housing, transport, infrastructure and jobs underpin our economic growth strategy and the city plan.

On these, we have big aspirations, big ambition. There is a tendency in our city to think we can’t deliver big, that we have to think small because we failed to deliver in the past.

I come at this fresh, with a refusal to accept that Bristol has a special case of inability. It’s time to think, plan and deliver big and I will lay out some of those aspirations tonight. It is true that although there is a limit to public money, there is no shortage of investment available to the city for the right projects and we are putting together a portfolio of investables, to promote the city to global investors including showcasing some of our plans at the MIPIM conference in France next spring and in China, this December.

On Housing, we initiated eight new-build council housing developments, in Henbury and Lawrence Weston. And we were excited to recently announce the next phase of our new build programme: a council owned site at Alderman Moore, in Ashton Vale, where we will build a mixed development of 130 more new homes.

My Cabinet lead for housing Paul Smith is doing a great job and he has revised our 2020 target to at least 2500 new homes per year.

We have worked hard to place plans for the Temple Quarter in the government’s inbox. We have explained our economic growth plans to them and the desperate need to revive a flagging area of the inner city. As a result, and with the support of our colleagues across the combined authority, we have submitted a bid to the Housing Infrastructure Fund. Like all government funds, it will be substantially over-subscribed but we know our bid is strong and has a reasonable chance of success. The bid would bring 150 million pounds to Temple Meads for housing and we also plan to continue with developments in Hengrove, Lockleaze and Southmead.

That bid brings an additionality of over 4000 homes to the city centre, with affordable homes at the heart of the plans.

In addition, we need to use those housing plans to try and breathe life back into Temple Meads Station. I am happy to announce tonight we are working with Network Rail, The Homes and Community Agency and the university to leverage a plan to redevelop Temple Meads Station and the surrounding area, protecting the historic nature of the station but bringing a new retail and hospitality offer to Temple Meads, with a more direct link to the city centre.

We also have plans to bring ambitious development to the Cumberland Basin. We are putting together a proposal that will tear down the old, ugly road network across the western end of the harbour, build a simpler road bridge across the river at a lower point and develop the available land on both sides of the Avon, bringing more affordable housing to the city centre, extending the harbour as a residential area to the west. We may even rename the Cumberland Basin, the Western Harbour. I hope to unveil these plans soon.

My administration inherited a Joint Spatial Plan that my cabinet lead for spatial planning, Nicola Beech has worked hard to ensure the best deal for Bristol. That plan is a starting point, and we have pledged to raise our own ambitions, significantly increasing the number of homes planned for Bristol in the next 20 years. Nicola will head up work to identify land suitable for housing and as I announced last year, we will re-write the local plan and build more densely and higher.

I have also met with city partners with proposals for interim housing to help ease short term crisis and build a bridge between people and the housing market. And, when I leave here tonight, I am going to the ‘we can make Home’ housing community in Knowle West with local councillor Chris Jackson, where I will spend the night. I invite our journalists present, to come with me.

On transport, as I said I would last year, I launched the congestion task group and they have been operational for 6 months, 20 experts in a room, led by my new cabinet lead for Transport, Mhairi Threlfall. No political games, no obstructions, no vested interests, just people finding solutions.

We have three sub groups; one looking at the technical, one on transport communications and one group looking at Quick Wins. They are also looking at the Bristol Transport Plan that will form the basis of a regional transport plan and inputting into the City Plan for long term aims.

I can also announce our intention to launch a No Idle Roadworks policy. This will improve advance planning of roadworks and how we share information, including signage, with road users as well as the ability for citizens to report idle roadworks, share information and use signage to tell citizens what work is happening and why, explaining when a site may appear idle, and introduce easier ways for citizens to find information about and report roadworks that are inactive using #Bristolroadworks and get reports back.

I have been working with James Freeman, MD at FirstBus to introduce contactless payments on the entire fleet. I can announce tonight that the technology is being fitted and tested with a target date of January 8, 2018 for buses to be available for contactless payment, speeding up journeys. I am extremely grateful to James and his team at First for working with us.

This announcement comes on the back of the previous announcement by First to invest in clean air and they are working to introduce 110 Bio Methane fuelled buses with the fuelling infrastructure. I encourage other operators to invest in the same technology.

There is always talk about modal shift and the need to reduce congestion by changing the ways people travel. But too often, we talk about this as the magic pill and modal shift will not happen unless there is a viable alternative for people to choose. We continue to work with our bus providers and we press ahead with road improvements but we remain the only core city or major city without a mass transit system.

Metro Bus will help but is only part of the solution. Congestion remains one of the most serious problems the city faces. It hinders people movement, worsens air quality and weakens our economy. As I previously announced, we have commissioned a pre-feasibility study for underground with our partners in the West of England Authority. Initial feedback is that ground conditions don’t look too problematic and that with the right level of investment, is perfectly buildable.

A mass transit scheme, that connects the northern fringe, the south and the east to the centre and connects the city rapidly to our growing airport and people to jobs, has the potential to be transformative for the city and region. Accordingly, my city leader partners, Tim Warren in BaNES, Matthew Riddle in South Glos, Nigel Ashton in North Somerset and of course, Tim Bowles for the combined authority, all recognise the generational opportunity this presents and will support the full feasibility study being commissioned this month.

So, homes and transport remain at the top of my focus.

We will shape our housing and transport actions towards inclusive growth and we will ensure we secure land for industrial use as part of a clear intent to maintain a diverse economy. I will continue to work with Business West and with Destination Bristol on bringing trade and investment and tourism into our city. I have continued to support our cultural offer, agreed a cultural strategy and protected Colston Hall. I remain determined to deliver an arena at the right price.

I support the TUC campaign for Better Jobs for a Better Bristol and will work with them to ensure that the City Plan reflects Bristol as a great place to work. We have celebrated European City of Sport, grown participation and continue to work to bring sporting events to the city and work to develop elite sport and elite athletes, including backing all of our sports teams. I was disappointed to see Bristol Rovers and UWE couldn’t get their deal done but that simply provides an opportunity to support the club to build a stadium within Bristol.

Our airport has ambitious plans and we will support them and we will continue to manage and promote the working harbour as a thriving part of the city. A pleasing element of the year has been our efforts to bring Channel 4 here and Working with our media sector, we continue to be well positioned.

I have talked so far tonight about the city, our achievements and challenges, but there is a bigger context in which to see the city. The city you experience today is the product of past and present action and inaction by the whole range of public, private, voluntary and faith organisations. Add to this the national and international forces such as national and international policy, trade and of course our personal decisions.

National government is a key partner and it is in this context that the weaknesses of national governments are being exposed. While I would obviously point to the fact that austerity and Brexit makes life more difficult for Bristol, this is actually a modern problem that goes beyond party. National governments the world over are finding they don’t have the tools to cope with the changing world around them and fail on everything from climate change, to inequality to democratic legitimacy and they risk dragging cities down with them. National governance continues to be important in so many areas but we must recognise it is shaped to face the challenges of the last century.

Central governments are weak partners for city leaders. This makes re-balancing sovereignty to empowering cities is the great opportunity of our time. While the genie is out of the bottle on devolution, it often focuses in the wrong areas, has been ad hoc and inconsistent and does not give cities the power to plan for the long term. Or as our very own Robin Hambleton put it a few years ago, “we need to move beyond the devolution deception”.

Central governments are weak partners for city leaders. This makes rebalancing sovereignty to empower cities the great opportunity of our time.

If we can do our bit and organise ourselves as a city, collectively agree what we want to deliver over the coming decades, and if we secure the necessary financial powers, freedoms and flexibility from government, there is little that is beyond us.

With globalisation and austerity changing the shape of the economy and as cities continue to attract people for work and community, so their economic impact and social resonance continues to grow in a way that builds the city identity. In their book, the Metropolitan Revolution, Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley describe this phenomenon as “Cities aggregate people and places in a geography that is large enough to make a difference but small enough to impart a sense of community and common purpose”.

And it is that sense of community and common purpose that we are using to drive forward in the City Office and in writing a One Bristol Plan to map out Bristol’s future towards 2050, a plan for the city that we will all collectively write and deliver. I am grateful to Louise Sunderland from KPMG for co-ordinating this work for me and for the many city partners who are helping to plan it out and to write it.

The size of the challenge and opportunity

Quoting again:

The metropolitan revolution is of our era. Crowd sourced rather than close sourced, entrepreneurial rather than bureaucratic, networked rather than hierarchical.

And recognising the scale of the challenge, it is important to know we are not alone in this thinking. Last month I was in New York with 50 of the world’s most progressive cities and global institutions, already working in recognition of shifting challenges and the key role of cities to meet them. Those cities, from the US, Africa, Asia, Europe as well as in the UK are working to ensure cities have a seat at the table of global decision making and get the power to control what goes on in their boundaries and also the national and international context in which they live.

Cities from around the world have far more powers and the UK ranks well down the city sovereignty league table. A key goal for UK cities is to match cities in the US and Europe in keeping a share of local taxation – of taxes spent in the city, currently a massive local spend for which we are getting no revenue. In the UK, cities spend about 7% of taxation, the New York Mayor spends 50% of the taxes raised in the city and in Tokyo, they spend 70% of the tax raised in the city. UK is the most centralised state in the democratic world and it’s an old model that has to change. I will be calling on my own party for a parliamentary strategy that doesn’t just argue for the policy of more funding, although we do need that, but widens the debate to work towards a new city government model, that reflects the size of city contribution to our state and to the world.

The argument is growing. In the UK, the Local Government Information Unit is calling for a Mayors senate, for the mayoral model to be expanded, for a systematic review of public finance and for a new constitutional settlement.

In their report, they recognise that capacity, knowledge and expertise at city level is more essential than ever. And the report acknowledges a painful truth – that the relationship between city and national government is not one of equals but one of a hierarchical relationship where cities go cap in hand.

Patricia de Lille, the Mayor of Cape Town and Chair of the Global Parliament of Mayors says we should be talking about spheres of government rather than tiers of government.

And my colleague and Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan said recently, “if the 19th century was the century of empire, the 20th the century of nation states, then the 21st century is surely the century of mayors and cities”.

After the Brexit vote, 175 000 people signed a petition for the independence of London as a city state. (Tempting, but I’m not going that far). But, we must recognise if cities fail, the nation state economy fails. I’m calling for a new settlement for cities, a new deal with governments, a clear acknowledgement that cities need more control. National policy Is undermining our ability to succeed and We need powers to ensure we can promote our businesses, jobs, and grow inclusive prosperity.

Decision making is devolving automatically to cities, not just to politicians but to business, unions, the voluntary sector, communities. Power is devolving to the places and people closest to the ground for collaborative action. The nature of leadership is changing –not just to politicians but to all city leaders and city governance is the direction of travel.

Shifting global challenges has brought the inversion of the hierarchy of power and the UK is now in that firing line.

Bristol is truly an international city, recognising the context of our national and international role. I have been elected to the steering committee of the Global Parliament of Mayors and I am delighted to be able to announce the Global Parliament of Mayor’s conference will be held in Bristol, in 2018. This is a huge opportunity, not just for the profile of the city around the world, but a chance to showcase the city, our investability and our tourism and trade match-ups. We will work with the core cities, the department of Local Government and Communities and the Department of International Trade to maximise the impact we gain from the time 100 mayors of major cities will spend in Bristol.

I have set out the challenge and opportunity, so come forward and make Bristol a big offer. Tell me what great thing you want to get done for the city, tell me what you need from me and the rest of the city in order to deliver it.

Thank you