This is the transcript for my Annual Address speech I delivered at Full Council on Tuesday 6 July 2021.
As this is my first opportunity since being elected, I will start with some thanks:
- to the mayoral and councillor candidates who took on the challenge of running for office.
- to those of you who turned out to vote irrespective of who you voted for. Participation is essential to our democracy.
- and of course to those who campaigned and voted for me.
While my wife has been on TV admitting that she sometimes wishes I wasn’t the Mayor (a view a number of my Twitter trolls and probably one or two elected members hold all the time), it is nonetheless a profound honour to be re-elected on our record.
We laid out an ambitious agenda to the city in 2016. Bristol didn’t have a reputation for delivery and wanted a leadership that would get things done.
They voted for a bigger picture, for a vision of an inclusive, sustainable and fairer city committed to tackling the poverty and inequalities that undermined us. They voted for affordable homes, for jobs and for hope.
I don’t often quote Cllr Hopkins but he did once share with me – with all of us actually because it was in Full Council – that it’s easy to get elected, but the real test is to be re-elected. Having faced that test, we are confident the city wants us to continue to deliver ambition and compassion.
The election taught us all a lot:
- The city is changing – and certain areas are seeing dramatic changes in population and culture.
- We face the threat of growing divides – the old ones such as race, class, health, education, earnings. And new ones such as home ownership versus non-ownership, and those who have some trust in public institutions verses those who have none.
- We take our planetary responsibilities seriously.
The election also taught us that the conflicts and controversies, the shambles and scandals, worked up in this organisation and the way they are managed and driven through social media are often worlds away from the immediate challenges and complicated problems real people are facing in Bristol.
And we learned the people of Bristol are not interested in the weeds of the council. They want solutions to the problems they face every day, not abstract negativity, opposition for opposition’s sake. They want us to be a source of hope.
The people of Bristol don’t see the world in binary. Talking to so many people during the election:
- they appreciated the commitments on housing delivery but also understood the challenges that Brexit and Covid had presented in maintaining the levels of delivery.
- they appreciated the need to protect land for nature and tackle climate change but also the need to build homes for people a grow the economy for jobs.
- on Colston’s statue, many appreciated the need to tackle racism alongside a sense that the statue was important and symbolic. But they also appreciated the statue itself was not the solution to racism. Some held a fear that they were losing their history and some recognise the danger of ordinary people being manipulated by those who, for lack of any real political vision, revert to manipulating them in the culture wars.
There is are enough challenges and divisions in the world without us conjuring up new ones for whatever motivation.
People want us to be focussed on creating hope and delivery and a better city. They want us to be people who are able to wrestle with the complex challenges and contradictions that cities – in all their diversity – embody.
I will spend the next three years leading in three areas:
1. Inclusion means inclusive growth
It means jobs and homes in a diverse economy that offers pathways to employment for people at all skills and education levels.
Our challenge is to share a way of doing economic development that by its very nature redresses the historic and institutional drivers of inequality and social immobility. This rather than growing the economy and then tacking a couple of equalities initiatives on the back end.
2. Sustainability means delivering against the climate action plan and the ecological action plan
It means working as a council. But it also means working as a city doing all we can to decarbonise the energy, transport and food systems on which our cities depends. It means not dealing with any single issue in isolation but recognising the interdependence of poverty, class, racism and climate change.
On that front, I will share the insight of someone who recently gave a speech to a Multi-Faith meeting on the environment that was organised by Afzal Shah. He shared with a gathering of black, white and Asian Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and Jews how too often environmentalism had been a voice of divisive and accusational politics when what it should have been a cause for unity in the face of a global challenge.
We need to hear that challenge.
Sustainability means not shying away from the housing crisis and the difficult conversations about density and sustainable city centre locations.
It means bringing investment into green jobs and a transition to a low carbon economy.
3. Delivery means continuing to get stuff done
Delivery means lives change. Homes are built. Children are fed. Women and girls no longer in period poverty. Ground source and water source heat pumps and installed. Schools are built. City areas are pedestrianised. Jobs are generated. Homeless people are housed.
You can measure action by the number of cranes on the horizon. They are a clear example of the modernisation of the city, of continuing growth and opportunity.
Delivery means continuing to work as a city, not just a council. Working with partners and continuing to meet city challenges with all partners, cleaner air, a living wage city, mass transit, a living rent city, a city where diversity of thought leads modern 21st century city and continuing to put cities at the forefront of political, economic and social challenges – putting cities in front of challenges where governments fail.
We have the challenge of leading a city that is growing in size of population, need, diversity and inequality within the same geographical area of land. We do this while facing up to the environmental, economic, political, social and moral need to face up to tackle the climate and ecological crisis. And sometimes the things we must do to meet one area of these challenges can threaten to undermine our efforts to meet another.
So I finish with the same offer I have always made: if you have an genuine offer, a contribution to make to our efforts to meet those challenges, if you want to turn up with solutions, the door is open. Come make that offer, and then tell me what you need from the city to enable you to deliver it.
The time I have as mayor is loaned to me by the city. It’s my job to invest it not in fruitless distractions and false politics, but in the people and initiatives that will make a difference for the city, our country and world.