Like many people, I look forward to the Mayor’s annual address. This year, I was hoping for a reminder of the Mayor’s vision for the city and the progress we have made.
Firstly, there is no doubt that the Council is in a difficult financial position. This means the scope for investing in services and new developments in Bristol is limited. However, it also makes it more important that we use the money we do have wisely and take fleet-footed action when and where we can. Unfortunately, it seems the opposite is happening at City Hall.
Last night’s address sounded and felt like a ‘management report’ not a vision for the city. The Mayor listed achievements that seemed to amount to a lot plans, strategies and consultations. The response to our problems with traffic and pollution is, for example, a transport strategy that sets out the need for more plans and feasibility studies. A review of RPZs was just that – a review with no
change. A challenge to the schools’ admissions process resulted in a ‘summit for 100 education partners who shared good practice’. More ‘planning’ is underway for the Western Harbour and a ‘working group’ has been gathered to ‘secure the future of our city centre’.
The Mayor mentioned the arena again, so I will too, because it is the one thing that would have brought some new life to our city in his term of office. A shovel ready project that would have left front line services untouched has been replaced by, you guessed it, a ‘plan’ for a mixed-use development – the conference centre no one in Bristol ever dreamt of.
In fact, as far as I can tell, housing seemed to be the only real achievement of the last two and a half years. For that, Cllr Paul Smith and council officers should be congratulated, as Bristol seems to be adding around 1% (2000 homes) to its housing stock every year. We were starting from a relatively low base so to be hitting a national average for house building is a real achievement to be celebrated.
Before the Mayor’s speech, I had called on the administration to be more ambitious. Now that the cap on borrowing is being lifted I think we should raise our sights even further. It was telling that this administration would rather celebrate its modest success, than aim higher.
Ultimately ‘plans’ are only as good as the difference they make. How many less people do we have sleeping rough or without homes? Is the air that we are breathing cleaner? How many homes have been insulated? How many people have new jobs and how many people are bringing home a living wage for their families? These are a few of the questions I would like to have heard answered.
Nobody is expecting miracles. It is tough to get things done when we have little cash but if a plan does not lead to change it represents a real a waste of the valuable and limited resources, we have. Which is surely almost worse than doing nothing?