Last Tuesday I attended the Bristol Manifesto launch event. I was invited to speak on behalf of the Institute of Directors to give the Bristol branch’s views on the key things that the mayor should focus on and what we would like the elected mayor to bring to the role.
In advance of the meeting I asked our members for their views. I was struck by the range of opinions. This in itself made me realise the difficulty of the mayor’s role: they have the impossible task of trying to represent us all. So, good luck to them whoever they may be, and here are some thoughts from the IoD.
Despite the breadth of views from our members this was the constant theme throughout almost all of the answers. The current infrastructure is bad for business, bad for the environment and bad for Bristolians’ quality of life. The good news is that with the announcement of the City Deal we have greater control over infrastructure decisions than ever before.
In announcing the City Deal, Danny Alexander said that “local leadership and strong leaders are essential to the future prosperity of Britain’s cities”. We need to ensure we have a mayor in place who can drive the development of an integrated transport scheme that will last the course.
Articulation & Vision
The City Deal is driven by the participating cities retaining growth in business rates. These in turn are derived from the Enterprise Zones. Success or failure within the local business community therefore informs the success of the infrastructure projects that we so greatly need. For that reason the mayor must understand the issues facing business – and not necessarily big business – but the SMEs who will be the backbone of the Enterprise Zones.
Appreciating the needs of business is one thing, converting this into success is another. The mayor must have the ability and platform to sell the Enterprise Zones to local businesses and critically must think big to help make Bristol an internationally recognised business centre. The mayor needs to articulate what makes our city a great place to live and to work both nationally and internationally in order to attract businesses and top talent to Bristol.
Trying to spell out what makes Bristol special is tough because one of the best things about it is its diversity. And while this is a huge plus it is also problematic as it makes consensus difficult. As a city we have collectively failed for too long because of in-fighting. And after each set back we dust ourselves down and say: “Ah well, that’s Bristol.” This has to stop.
Irrespective of their political views the mayor must approach the role in a genuinely collaborative manner. Through pragmatism and inclusion we can leap ahead of the other major cities in the same way that through collaboration the West of England LEP is regarded as a leading LEP.
We need someone who understands that without commercial success you can’t create a great city; you can’t support the things that make a modern city attractive to live in: open spaces, top class public transport, artistic and cultural attractions. We need someone who appreciates that blind commercialism will choke off the things that make Bristol special.
We need someone who can deliver major projects, be a dealmaker, a pragmatist, fight our corner, be a salesperson. We need someone who can articulate a sense of place, a vision for the future, create a legacy, and make us proud. Is there a Boris Boyle out there?