Bold action is needed now18 June 2020
We have an opportunity to #buildbackbetter. An opportunity to transform the economy, for the benefit of people and planet, by taking the best from lockdown and the best from before. Anything less will be a failure by our leaders, and we can’t allow them to fail. Too much rests on it.
We need bold leadership and new ideas locally and nationally. During the lockdown, we’ve realised how important our communities, families, and friends are; we’ve begun to appreciate cleaner air and clear streets, and the pandemic has brought inequality into hard focus. And people have seen that the Government can make huge changes very quickly, and want to see the same scale and speed of action applied to climate change and all the big issues that society faces.
But if we are to capture this moment, we must do it now.
What could we do in Bristol?
As the Green mayoral candidate for Bristol, I stand for a greener and fairer future. As the city’s mayor, I’d focus at this crucial moment on business, transport, and energy efficiency.
Support for local businesses
Right now, many businesses in Bristol need immediate and urgent help as they are sitting on a knife-edge, worried about their survival. That means thousands of jobs are at risk, and we must do our best to keep Bristol working.
As individuals, we can support Bristol businesses and jobs by buying local. This means doing some of our shopping in local shops – the bakery and butcher’s or the local grocery store, for example.
At a more strategic level, it means Bristol City Council and stable businesses should be purchasing locally. Bristol has world-beating companies that can offer everything from legal services and marketing to catering and cleaning. If you elect me as your mayor, I will change procurement policies to increase the proportion of local businesses supplying the council with goods and services, helping to support and create local jobs.
Changing the way we travel and connect
Before the lockdown, transport was a major problem for our city. With traffic levels at a historic high and the associated air pollution, Bristol’s transport system was a constant source of frustration for us all.
Now, we’ve all seen the benefits of clearer roads. If we want to keep it that way, we must boost investment in broadband across the city. This will help us continue the new norm for many people of home-working, meaning far fewer commuters.
And we must take this opportunity to create new dedicated cycle lanes and pedestrianised areas (beyond the Old City). This will make it easier to travel sustainably, ensuring adequate road space for businesses that need it. It will also clean up our air, benefitting all of us, especially those with health concerns.
Investing in warm and energy-efficient homes
These changes will be good. But we need to be more ambitious than this. If we are to tackle climate change and the ecological damage we are doing to our planet, we must take bolder action. And lockdown has given us a unique opportunity. Interest rates are at a historic low and are likely to remain that way. If I were mayor, I would borrow now to fund a major programme of investment to insulate our 27,000 council homes (costing £500m). This would have a real impact on our carbon emissions and fuel bills for the poorest in Bristol.
What can be done nationally?
Bristol can’t change the world on its own. We must demand national changes too.
Investment in energy efficiency is important, but we also need to reduce our dependence on natural gas for heating and cooking. Switching away from this over the next ten years is essential in order to become carbon neutral by 2030. This is another ambitious but achievable goal. Long-term national investment in Bristol of £4bn in district heating networks and heat pumps will enable us to move away from gas-powered boilers. Central government must put a financial stimulus package in place, not just to restart the economy – but to make it green.
To support these huge changes, we must invest in training for young people. Teaching them green engineering, digital and technical skills will mean they can play a full part in building back better – and it will give them a future to look forward to rather than one spent rotting on the dole queue. We estimate that a green recovery could create 50,000 new jobs in Bristol.
The Green Party has always understood how important green spaces are for mental well-being – something now proven by research. I believe access to green spaces is a human right. And now that people are confined to their homes, and inequality that has always been there is being more starkly revealed – thousands of Bristolians live in flats without gardens and have little access to quality green space. The Government must ensure that parks are properly funded so that people across our city and this country can access nature on their doorsteps.
Food poverty has emerged as one of the most shocking and unacceptable stories in this crisis. There was already an alarming number of people in food poverty, but the unemployment triggered by the virus has plunged millions more into reliance on food banks, government vouchers, friends, and neighbours. This cannot continue. We must address food poverty through a deeper structural shift in society to address inequality. Reversing austerity and ensuring that everyone is entitled to a basic citizens’ income must be part of the post-coronavirus world.
The Green Party has long promoted the idea of a basic citizens’ income – a guaranteed amount for every person in the country regardless of circumstances. A basic income would ensure that no one would go hungry or without a home. But, more than that, it would give people the security they need to live the life they want. They could afford to get training, start a new career or a new business. It would unlock the potential of millions of people across the country who are trapped by poverty, unleashing a wave of creativity, jobs, and wealth from which we all would benefit.
So let’s build back better
The Green Party has many more ideas that can change the world for the better and is calling on people of all ages, backgrounds, and ethnicities to join in a movement for a better world.
In ten years, I want to look back on this time with relief and say, we did it. We saw our chance to transform society, we seized the moment, and we created a fairer and greener society that benefitted everyone.
We have a unique, once-in-a-generation chance to change the future. If we don’t build back better now, we will have lost the opportunity, possibly forever.