Bristol businesses are being urged to act at “an historic moment for the city” and get behind a campaign to set the priorities for its first elected mayor.
The Mayor Manifesto was launched this week by the team that helped Bristol become the only English city to vote ‘yes’ in a ballot to decide whether or not to have an elected mayor.
It wants businesses – and the wider population – to give their three wishes for the mayor, who will be elected in November.
The launch, staged at law firm Clarke Willmott’s Bristol office, heard from Jaya Chakrabarti, (pictured) the Bristol businesswoman who spearheaded the ‘yes’ campaign, and a number of businesspeople.
Ms Chakrabarti said: “Three out of four people didn’t vote in the ballot and that is shocking. We owe it to the city to make sure that people know what is happening. It’s about engaging with people. It can make a difference and we need to use the various talents of the business community.”
And Christina Zaba, the Bristol-based writer and National Union of Journalists activist who also led the ‘yes’ campaign, said: “We are at an historic moment for Bristol. But we need the business community behind us. It won’t happen without you.”
Bristol business stalwart John Savage explained to the gathering of business leaders that when he first came to the city 25 years it had some major problems that many thought were insurmountable. Yet today it is a successful city, second only to London as measured by GDP.
“In 1988 there wasn’t a single crane to be seen in Bristol,” he said. “We had the biggest homeless problem outside London and some of the worst crime, particularly car crime.
“Nevertheless over the time since, Bristol has done very well.”
Mr Savage helped set up the Bristol Initiative 25 years ago with a group of like-minded business people to, as he put it, look over the horizon. That led to major regeneration schemes for the city such as Cabot Circus.
However, there was still a long way to go, he said, pointing out that Bristol was only 40% as efficient as Frankfurt – Europe’s top city.
“We never seem to rise to the challenge. But now we have the opportunity to do things differently,” he said.
“It’s poverty that is the challenge. My wish for Bristol is that it takes the lead, take a different approach.
“I think Bristol should be the first city in the UK to get rid of poverty. 20% of young people who leave State schools at 16 can’t read. It’s time to change Bristol. Not just poverty but poverty of spirit.
“Let’s do something about it. This is a city that can be an exemplar. We are Bristol – we can do it.”
Chief executive of the Bristol Natural History Consortium Savita Custead, speaking as president of the Bristol Junior Chamber, said its first ‘wish’ was for the new mayor to “get out and ‘sell’ Bristol nationally and internationally”.
Secondly, he or she needed to boost education and skills in the city and protect the most vulnerable, and thirdly, they needed to work in partnership with other organisations to ensure that Bristol remained a great place to do business.
Tom McCarthy of Bristol Institute of Director said its priorities were to improve transport and encourage businesses to set up but also to build on and strengthen its diversity, which he said was one of the city’s strengths.