The Government set out legislative priorities for the next parliamentary year, but has overlooked the needs, and voices, of cities. Their agenda has been cooked up in Westminster and doesn’t provide local leaders with the stability, investment or powers we need to resolve issues in our cities ourselves.
Overlooking the challenges we do face, the government has focused on issues we don’t experience as a priority. If they had talked with us, they would understand what we need to help manage and build our communities for the long term, instead of an approach that rolls down their priorities.
The Police & Crime Bill is an example of where the government has not engaged on the ground. It is re-introduced, and I continue to have concerns it imposes unacceptable controls on free expression and the right to peaceful protest. We will also watch proposals to introduce mandatory photo ID for those taking part in elections given legitimate concerns about the impact on our most marginalised communities. We don’t want to see citizens unable to vote for bogus reasons, especially as it disenfranchises our BAME and low-income communities.
Most frustratingly was another missed opportunity to explain the proposals for adult social care. More than ever the pandemic has demonstrated the vital role social care plays in our society providing essential support for older people and vulnerable adults. We are a compassionate and resilient city. Supporting everyone in it is part of who we are. But Bristol’s Adult Social Care budget is continually under pressure because of increased demand and care markets weakened by a decade of austerity.
We have been promised reforms for two years. The Government should provide councils with the long-term funding that will enable places to focus on ensuring all of us are supported to live a full life, whatever our circumstances. The absence of robust, predictable funding makes it impossible to properly invest in the development of progressive services and the skilled care workforce that are crucial to enable Bristolians to live independently for as long as they can, in their communities and with their families. Without a permanent funding settlement, councils will struggle to source and pay for the most basic care and support. A better future for adult social care must be one of the legacies of the last year.
It is also vital that any national policy, and particularly for planning, recognises and supports the role of cities if the UK is to recover from the economic shock of this last year. Proposed changes set out in the Planning Bill could have a detrimental effect and risks taking powers away from local people and communities.
Evidence shows that current planning processes and permissions are not what holds back development. Bristol has achieved an ambitious programme of housing delivery through the current system. Planning reform alone won’t solve the housing crisis, or deliver the inclusive, healthy and sustainable development we want for our communities in Bristol. The factors hindering development and housing delivery are the lack of investment in infrastructure and social housing.
Residents must be part of the planning process and have the opportunity to shape plans to regenerate and improve their local areas. We need flexibility in the planning system and with the Local Plan to help us respond to the demands of the climate and ecological emergencies, evolution in technologies and the impacts of Covid. These new proposals could make it harder for local places to plan and deliver high quality developments.
As we recover from the pandemic, our priorities have always been to work with businesses and unions with the aim of protecting existing employment, building skills and pathways to work. I welcome proposals to invest in lifelong learning, supporting our local employers to be at the centre of skills provision. It will be vital this activity leads to decent jobs that pay a living wage and protects livelihoods, particularly given no further detail on an expected Employment Bill.
Ensuring children have the best start in life has been at the heart of our approach here in Bristol and ahead of seeing further detail, I welcome the focus on early years and education recovery. But we know life chances will fail to improve if deepening inequalities are not addressed. This Government continually talks of ‘levelling up’. Making sure local places have the freedoms and funding to make locally determined decisions will be essential if residents are to see a tangible improvement on their quality of life and in the opportunities available to them and their families.
Across regions, the Core Cities and the Western Gateway, we look forward to working with the Government to demonstrate how Bristol can maximise new infrastructure investment, build more homes and provide greater access to jobs and prosperity, if we’re offered the relationship to do so.