State of the City Address 2023

*Check against delivery*

Welcome.

This is my eighth, and final, State of the City. Before we begin, I do want to give you a heads up that with it being my final State of the City, and with this being a high-profile event, it is not unlikely we will be targeted by protestors. If we are, don’t be surprised. 

I want to thank Andrew Kelly and the Bristol Ideas team for all the work they’ve done to organise this, all the previous events, and all have you have done over the years.  

And I want to thank the University of Bristol for hosting us each year in his incredible hall.

Thank you all for being here tonight, and I extend that to everyone who has taken time out of their busy lives to attend any of my previous addresses.

We have some very special guests here this evening: The President of the US Conference of Mayors, the Mayor of Reno, Nevada, Hilary Schieve; Tom Cochran, CEO of the US Conference of Mayors; and representatives from the US Embassy including Rebeca Lewis.

Thank you for being with us and we look forward to strengthening relations between Bristol and US cities in the years ahead.

THIS EVENING

This evening I will cover three key areas:

First I am going to set out what I call a “continue to do list” for Bristol. It covers the fundamentals: housing, mass transit, climate change and regeneration. I’ll touch on the scale of the opportunities and challenges in each.

Second, I will share some of the insights we have taken from our leadership of Bristol. I am going to talk particularly about our interdependence, and the nature of power.

Thirdly, I am going to offer some challenges and opportunities to the future leaders of our city and our region.

MY TIME IN OFFICE

But I will start with an overview of my time in office.

I was elected in 2016 with big ambitions: a specific kind of ambition, one grounded in a commitment to inclusion and making Bristol a city in which people can have hope. We came in with a commitment to build homes, tackle hunger and social immobility – and pursue carbon neutrality.

We faced some serious challenges.

We’ve had political upheaval.

The UK voted Brexit a month and a half after my election.

Since 2016 we’ve had five Prime Ministers, and eight Ministers for Local Government.

We’ve had heightened awareness of the climate and ecological emergencies and extreme weather events.  We face the prospect of national leaders failing to deliver the scale of change at the pace that’s needed if we are to avoid the worst possible outcomes.

We had a global pandemic, lockdown, and wars.

We have simultaneously had the cost of living crisis and the cost of operating crisis.

We’ve held the city together through the toppling of the Colston Statue and the counter rallies that followed.

We’ve grappled with the government’s austerity, which disproportionately cut the budgets of Local Authorities. We’ve faced growing demand and the growing cost of care, something that’s led to several councils effectively filing for bankruptcy.

And we inherited a city in which our key infrastructure is at end of life: the Chocolate Path, the sluice gates, the harbour walls, bridges up and down the River Avon and the cut, including the main St Annes Road Bridge, the M32 viaduct and St Phillips Causeway.

That sits alongside a city with entrenched race and class inequalities that map onto the city’s geography. 

But throughout, we have retained our focus on delivery and positive change.

We have delivered 12,534 homes;

Opened 106 Welcoming Spaces to support people through the coldest months;

We’ve had the Strive Internship programme supporting minoritised students to access careers in  professional services;

Secured £100m for Temple Meads and Temple Quarter;

Signed the £1 billion Bristol City Leap energy investment deal.

The level of delivery has led to us being invited to take positions of national and international leadership.

In the UK, I have chaired Core Cities and the LGA City Regions Board. I co-chaired the UK Urban Futures Commission report on the future of UK cities and represented Bristol on the advisory board of 3Ci.

Internationally, we have been asked to participate in COP, sit on the Mayors Migration Council, the UN SDG Urban Finance Commission, and we were invited onto the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative.

We have played a key role placing cities at the centre of action on climate change and migration.

No one does it alone, so I want to say thank you to those who have come together to work so hard to deliver for Bristol.

This includes;

Andy Street and Ed Rowberry who have done so much;

Our city partners and the city office, including Andrea Dell;

Sado Jirde, Paul Hassan, Sandra Meadows and Marti Burgess who have been constant source of delivery focussed positivity;

James Creed, everyone at Empire Fighting Chance, Omari Cato and Saeed Esmaeli who work with young people across our city.

Every year I announce our International Ambassadors who are joining the other ambassadors to use their profile and connections to increase Bristol’s international presence,

They are:

  • Muna Abdi – Muna personifies entrepreneurial spirit and the positive impact of refugee and migrant businesses in Bristol.
  • Dr Razvan Constantinescu MBE – Raz founded ‘From Bristol with Love’, to deliver humanitarian aid to children with special needs in Romania and aid to Ukrainian refugees.
  • Professor Leon Tikley – Leon is UNESCO Chair in Inclusive, Good Quality Education and Global Chair in Education at the University of Bristol

Thank you.

I also want to thank the Labour Group, and all councillors who have served in my cabinet – particularly my Deputy Mayors Craig Cheney and Asher Craig.

And, of course, I want to thank my family. My wife, children, my mum, my brothers and sisters. For always supporting me and putting up with me. And I want to thank my brother Martin who is no longer with us having taken his own life. I will always be proud of him.

CONTINUE TO DO LIST

So let’s look now at Bristol’s “continue to do” list.

I start with homes – Bristol must “continue to do” homes.

Housing captures so many of Bristol’s contradictions and complexities.

We have 42 square miles. We are 472,000 people. We have 20,000 on the housing waiting list and 1,300 households in temporary accommodation. We anticipate our population reaching 550,000 by 2050. We have to build homes faster than we have for decades just to stand still.

Schroeders recent report demonstrates the current cost of a house in the UK is nine times the average earnings. The last time houses were this expensive by ratio was 150 years ago. By comparison, 40 years ago house prices were four times the average earnings. As a result, home ownership has fallen, and the private rental sector is back to levels not seen since the early 1980s.

All this is spilling over into gentrification leaving thousands struggling to keep a toe-hold in their city.

We must deliver homes. But we must do so in the context of the climate and ecological emergencies. The competition between homes, nature, leisure, transport, employment, food growing for our 42 square miles is real.

Every home that is not built on brownfield land will increase pressure on all these other priorities, including nature. So we must build to maximise efficiency, recycling previously used brownfield land rather than greenfield land, prioritising active travel.

RECORD AND CHALLENGES

Since 2016, 12,543 homes have been built. The government say we need around 50,000 new homes by 2040.

There are opportunities in the pipeline that must be completed, including:

Temple Quarter – over 10,000 homes;

Debenhams site – 520 homes;

The Galleries – 450 homes and student living for 800;

Olympian plans for Avon House – 574 homes (of which 442 for students);

Western Harbour – up to 3,000, with 50% affordable;

Hengrove Park – 1,435, including 50% social and affordable homes;

Frome Gateway – 1,000 homes;

Baltic Wharf – 150 homes;

The Fruit Market – 500 homes.

26,000 more units in the pipeline all coming forward for development with £2 billion of investment.

These are some of the challenges to this.

First, work needs to continue to turn Bristol City Council into a housing delivery organisation. That goes both for the officers and politicians in the organisation alike. Investment from national government is critical to this challenge.

We set up our council owned Goram Homes. This strengthens our ability to build work with public and private investors to build council homes. Goram is currently building the 1,400 homes in Hengrove. I thank the Chief Executive Stephen Baker and his team for the way they have re-shaped the company to deliver.

Second, the council must deliver where it can, but it is a decreasingly small part of the story. Partnership is needed – both with government agencies but critically with the private sector.

We cannot deliver the numbers of homes needed without private developers and investors. So, we must ensure Bristol remains open for business and continues to work with developers to maximise the likelihood of us getting the kind of homes we need: dense, centrally located, affordable, efficient.  

Third, this work has to be led. We must do Bristol on purpose. 

Politicians cannot be passive spectators in the development of the city. Developers must know what we are about, and we must work with them ensure their schemes match our ambition. We have been clear that we want people who can help us deliver the UN Sustainable Development Goals. If they can, they are more likely to win support in the planning process. We don’t believe in leaving our city’s future to markets and quasi-judicial processes. It’s our job to make sure these processes work for the ends we want. 

And remember uncertainty is a deterrent to the public and private sector investors we need. There is a nervousness among developers resulting not only from the rising costs of a crashed economy, but also a complete change of leadership structure as Bristol leaves the mayoral model behind. The next leadership will still need to bring developers and investors to the city and ensure confidence in our commitment to delivering homes. 

We must continue to do climate and ecology

One of the most frustrating and dangerously naive challenges made to me on climate change is “all it takes is political will”.

It takes political will and billions of pounds. When you secure the money, slogans become delivery. And that’s what counts.

Our administration has invested over £100 million in decarbonisation work since 2016. 

Our Bristol City Leap deal means that over the next five years, £630 million will be invested to cut energy bills, create green jobs, and slash carbon emissions by over 150,000 tonnes.

We have planted over 90,000 trees since 2015 and contributed to a deal with Ambition Lawrence Weston which erected the tallest onshore wind turbine in England.

All this will contribute to our city goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2030. An incredibly challenging aspiration.

It’s why we have been so active nationally and internationally on the issues of cities and finance. It was the central theme of my TED Talk. And its why we have been so invested in developing 3Ci, the Cities Commission for Climate Investment. 

This is a partnership between UK Cities Catapult, Core Cities, Key Cities and Local Authorities across the UK. Together, we have identified a £300 billion pipeline of decarbonisation investment opportunities across the UK’s cities and are facilitating an unprecedented public and private sector partnership to secure that money. 

Unlocking the investment needed to decarbonise our cities will be central to the message I take to this year’s COP. 

It’s also important to understand a city goal is a city goal and cannot be delivered by the Council alone. We need the innovation, capacity and resources of all city institutions. It’s why our One City climate strategy is a One City strategy rather than just a council strategy.

We are challenged by the fact that over a decade of national government austerity has hollowed out local government expertise and capacity needed to drive our climate work. It why are working with the SDG Finance Committee on a restructuring of global finance, to get money into the hands of cities.

I will finish with this point on homes. Building the right homes in the right locations will be one of the biggest determinants of our future climate impact. It was the World Health Organisation that said “after world peace, urban planning is the world’s most important issue”. We have to build Bristol the right way.

We must continue to do transport.

I am going to focus on the public debate we are having right now about mass transit. 

The absence of a mass transit system is one of the city region’s biggest challenges. We must go beyond make do and mend. This is a moment where we can make a decision that shapes the city for a century and more.

The characteristics of a mass transit scheme must be these:

  • move hundreds of thousands of people daily
  • be segregated to guarantee reliability 
  • serve the areas of highest density
  • connect disconnected communities to each other and to jobs
  • deliver modal shift

If we agree this criteria, the system begins to design itself. The mass transit system has to include elements of underground in the densest areas.

The geological work has been done. The economic case is well underway. We are ready to progress to the Business case. The reports suggest the overground option could be hugely expensive due to the catastrophic impact on the highways network and moving of utilities and future legal wrangling over compulsory purchase orders on land and buildings.

They show that an overground cannot be delivered without the permanent closure of major roads, including Gloucester Road, Church Road and St Luke’s Road.

When this is taken into account, the overground becomes undeliverable.

To hear some of the opposition voices who say underground is ‘pie in the sky’, you wouldn’t think London went underground in 1863, 160 years ago. I would say this: I understand that Bristol has failed to deliver big for so many years. People have become sceptical and cynical. But let’s not allow old failures to rob us of the ability to recognise huge opportunities when they are right in front of us.   

I also urge us to avoid false trade-offs between meeting today’s challenges and planning a system for future populations. We must do both at the same time. We would be in a very different position to the one we are in today if previous iterations of political leadership had worked with 20 year transport plans.   

We are close to having the alignment we need. Businesses back taking underground forward, we back taking underground forward, WECA officers back taking underground forward. This morning the National Infrastructure Commission recommended £22bn of investment in mass transit systems for Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and Bristol.

The opportunity is there. But we need to step forward to take it.

As President Obama said “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

We must continue to do regeneration

Temple Quarter is one of the biggest and most exciting regeneration projects in Europe.

Over 10,000 homes in a sustainable location, 22,000 jobs, £1.5billion annually to the economy.

It protects nature by developing brownfield land and restoring the river Avon and will strengthen our resilience through flood defence.

It’s an investment in our society, bringing families back to the city centre as part of balanced communities.  

Moreover, we have anchored the UN Sustainable Development Goals and put them at the centre of the project.

Temple Quarter is an example of how Bristol will need to work to deliver. 

  1. We first agreed what we needed done. All the landowners – Bristol City Council, Homes England, Network Rail, University of Bristol – and key partners agreed on the opportunity and need to regenerate Temple Quarter. We committed to working together.     
  2. We presented a united front to government. We first met as long ago as 2017 and made government aware of our ambition. We invited them to be part of our working group to work through the land assembly, map out and secure the investment required and the permissions to put a deal together. We were ready when the government and private sector were ready. We have built a collaborative structure and culture that is being turned into the Joint Delivery Vehicle that oversee 15 year build out of this part of Bristol. It will enable us to overcome small bureaucracy and small politics and empower communities and partners to deliver for Bristol.

This kind of focus, long term commitment and collaboration will be essential if we are going to reap the full benefits of Temple Quarter and the other schemes that must come through if we are to meet our populations needs and reduce the price the planet pays for that.

Lessons and insights

I have leaned many important lessons from my time as Mayor and I will share a few;

Don’t make perfect the enemy of the good. So often people want to hold out for perfection instead of grappling with the imperfect system we have to operate within.

Keeping the status quo doesn’t mean things won’t change. Opposing everything doesn’t halt the economic and environmental forces that pull and push this city. Change happening around us whether we respond or not. And a 1970s version of Bristol won’t serve us in the 2020s.

Good things can have bad outcomes for some people. People with single issue campaigns would do well to remember that the solutions they want to see, could negatively impact the people they need to work with.

Responsible power means taking difficult choices. Many times in this role I have found that you have to make a choice between least worst options. It’s not a fun place to be, but I know I can bring the values that the city elected to those choices and see them through.

Power doesn’t exist in an abstract. As an elected politician, power is loaned to me by this city. As a city leader, I am just one of many sources of power. Andy Marsh, the former Chief Constable, said “world class public sector leadership is not about what you control, it’s about what you influence”.

Leadership power depends on followership.

But allow me to talk about two in particular. 

First, our interdependence.

Bristol is a collective act. Leadership a city is a collective act. We do it together. This reality underpins two of the most important reflections on my time as mayor.

Understanding how to work with our interdependence is key to the delivery we have committed ourselves to.

Stephen Covey describes three states of existence. As children we are dependent, as teenagers we move towards independence. But the most development state is interdependence.

What people get from Bristol is not the result of the acts or decisions of one person: we all sit at the intersection of the actions and inactions of all the city’s shapers.

That is at the heart of the One City Approach and the One City Office we grew to bring all partners together to write and deliver our Bristol One City Plan.

Second, is the nature of power

Our interdependence means there is no such thing as absolute power in the city.  In Bristol – as in cities all over the world – power is based on your ability to convene and influence other powers rather than command and control. As a mayor, I operate in the realm of soft power.     

These is a thing in Bristol where we are concerned about power. That is healthy. Power has a ripe history of abuse. But we must be careful not to decry power altogether. 

It was Martin Luther King Jr who explained: “Power properly understood is the ability to achieve purpose”.

He pointed out that love without power is weak and anaemic, it can’t do anything for anyone.

I will add to this the fact that the city needs external facing power to win investment, to manage its relationship with the government and to resist hostile national and international policies and forces. Power is critical to our city’s ability respond to you, its citizens, to set out its course and be resilient in the face of bigger and more complex national and international threats.  

CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES

In May 2022, Bristol voted to leave the mayoral model and move to a committee system. On top of the local elections on May 2024, we will have the change in the very structure of our city region politics.

Any change brings challenges and I will share my sense of what those challenges are here. I would add that while I thought the decision to move to a committee system wasn’t wise, I also think that challenge by their very nature present opportunities if they are understood and successfully met.

First, the Committee System.

The challenge is for the committee designing the committee system, and the councillors who eventually sit in it, it becomes what the city – rather than the councillors – actually need.

Bristol is a core city, a global city with a £15 billion economy and a daily workforce of half a million people. We have one of the most vibrant and successful economies in the UK, and have experienced sustained growth. We have among the highest productivity levels per capita in the UK, and highest employment and qualification rates of the UK’s major cities.

As a primary urban area, we have a GVA of £28.2 billion. Bristol’s modern economy is built on creative media, financial services, life sciences, technology, fintech, electronics and aerospace engineering. The aerospace industry alone is worth £2.8 billion.

80 people a week migrate to our region. Bristol Airport connects to 115 cities. We have the UK’s most centrally located deep-sea port and we are home to the UK’s most productive tech cluster.

We have two world class universities and our city region contributes £40 billion to the UK economy.

We need serious, full-time leadership, engaged and working with the whole city. We need leadership that can drive investment and thrive in a competitive world.

The specific challenge for the committee system is that they:

  • must not operate in a local political abstract – It is essential that it looks up and out at the city, rather than talk to itself. It is essential that the committee structure sees itself as city leaders and enablers, not as council managers, not as arbiters choosing between officer’s recommendations as a committee that votes yay or nay. The full measure of Leadership is not a vote in a moment of time following an officer briefing, it is an ongoing relationship with all the moving parts. The Council cannot just be a collection of services – it must be a leader of place. It must Influence and being influenced by every aspect of Bristol life. 
  • The system must offer certainty as soon as possible. It needs to be clear on how it will work and what it will offer to the city and to public and private investors. It must be clear on what it wants to get done.
  • It must offer engagement and participation – but not just for the sake of discussion at the expense of delivery. Engagement must be delivery focused.

With 7,000 adults receiving care from the council, costing our taxpayers £200 million and 800 children receiving care packages that cost £100 million, there is a huge challenge to manage the public purse well. We have launched transformation projects into both adult and children’s care to improve cost efficiency, along with another into the growing crisis of temporary accommodation where costs are rising exponentially every year. 

If future leaders want the ability to impact on the city, they must complete the work to make those services more efficient or – with 75% of our revenue already taken up by care and a further 10% taken up by debt – you will become nothing more than a social service provider and lose the ability to impact on the city. The committee system, in power, will have to own the fact that you cannot have everything you want all at once. The truth is you can’t have everything you want even through time. Decisions have to be made.

West of England Combined Authority

With the absence of a Bristol Mayor, The West of England Combined Authority and the metro mayor will become the high-profile political leadership of the city and the focus of attention and scrutiny. The Metro Mayor will take more power as a determinant of delivery for Bristol and will become the political face and voice on the national and international stage. 

There are some challenges for WECA:

  • the voice of the city must remain strong in the Combined Authority and shouldn’t be diluted. This is not to say that the rural areas are less important. But it is to recognise the pivotal and unique role of the city in driving regional, national and international growth. The Combined Authority must take forward the scale of ambition for Bristol that the city deserves and the region and the country needs. 
  • WECA has to become an organisation that delivers big tangible outcomes for the city region. It must become our voice in Westminster and Whitehall, and on the global stage rather than the passporter of government funds to the region. We need WECA to lead with us and secure  government investment in line with the region’s agreed priorities, rather than operating with the government’s limited ambitions.

Take a lead from Barack Obama, who when asked about entering leadership, said: “just learn how to get stuff done”.

Third, The Combined Authority must be more connected to the public, improve accountability and transparency. As WECA increases in prominence and power of Bristol, its critical that Bristol voters and councillors have greater sight and purchase over the decisions that will be made.

CONCLUSION

Being mayor of Bristol has been an incredible opportunity.  I won’t pretend it has been easy – the challenges are real; the aspirations are beyond the ability of any individual or organisation working alone, and many of the elements that shape our city are not in our direct control. On top of all that, there is a lot of noise. Some of it helpful, some of it not, and some of it very personal.

I’ll say more about this, and give more personal insights, in my final major speech as Mayor next March.

But let me illustrate what being the Mayor of Bristol means to me.

A few years ago I hosted Lisa Nandy in Bristol. We visited a development of 13 homes we’d built in St Annes. This was a former older peoples home. They were efficient homes, solar panels and well insulated.

I knocked on a door. The father opened it and greeted us with a huge smile. He and his wife had moved with their two daughters – under the age of three – from a flat in Barton Hill.

They wanted us to go look around their home. They were proud. They were able to offer visitors hospitality, which affirmed their own dignity.

I thought to myself: everything in this family’s life has just gone in the right direction. The affordability of life and cost of living, the stability of their family life, their children’s mental health. The educational prospects of their girls.

It was an honour to be there.

It is at moments of real delivery, in real lives, that the noise evaporates. This job is about making real change.

I tell people that making change comes in many forms. Sometimes it is big and visible and revolutionary. But more often it is about nudging the compass just a degree or two. The change can be barely noticeable at the time, but in ten years you are in a wholly different destination to the one you would otherwise have been. A kind of social butterfly effect.

Thank you for lending me the space and time and opportunity to be a part of the city’s change.

ENDS