Bristol’s mayor coined a phrase from his party leader, saying he really is ‘for the many and not the few’ as he promised to fight Government-imposed austerity.
Reflecting on his first 13 months in office, Marvin Rees went on to hit out at people who “live their lives on social media” and argued that blaming the council for the recent raft of cuts to public services may be personally gratifying, but doesn’t deliver for poor people.
“I respect the people who are losing services and want to protest and need to have their voices heard,” he said at a meeting in City Hall on Tuesday. “I am listening and doing my best to work with communities to find solutions.
“Anger at cuts must be directed to the government, the people who actually reduce the council’s income and shrink our positive impact on the city.”
The mayor swept to power in May 2016, ousting George Ferguson from the role and bringing in a new era of Labour rule that was further strengthened by the party’s clean sweep in the General Election.
He said his administration did not inherit the ‘robust’ financial situation it was led to believe, prompting a move to ‘fix’ the council and make it more responsive to the wider needs of the city.
Rees pointed out that the council still has responsibility for spending £1.2billion in the city and is not just about “managing and opposing cuts,” but ensuring public money is used in the most impactful and cost effective ways.
He continued: “We have to face up to the fundamental challenge posed by race, class, gender and power. The worldview I bring to this challenge is grounded in the Bristol my family and I grew up in, not one I read about or discussed in a university seminar.
“Some want to win headlines and build their social media following – we want to build the city: by building houses, building schools, building communities and building lives.
“Protesting has its place, but we also need a clear, thought out, alternative vision and strategy for cities. You won’t grow a mass movement without solutions. People need something to believe in beyond something to protest against.”
Rees cited the devolution deal, work to tackle homelessness and the city’s housing crisis, progress on closing the gender and race pay gap and a campaign to clean up the city’s streets among some early successes and said transport remains a priority.
He rounded off by saying: “I am ferociously ambitious for Bristol, we’re facing massive challenges but we are also achieving and will continue to do so. I am excited and looking forward to working with you in the next year and those beyond.”
Lib Dem group leader Gary Hopkins argued that Labour needs to move away from blaming everybody else and said austerity is not to blame for what he called an “incompetent consultation” on the future of the city’s libraries, saying it is down to “bad management.”
Conservative group leader Mark Weston said problems faced by the city are bigger than any one party and pledged to work with the Labour administration where there is agreement and “fight tooth and nail” when there isn’t.
Eleanor Combley, leader of the Greens’ group, pledged to keep on the council’s case about its promise to develop a carbon neutral city.
She challenged Rees on the ever-growing numbers of people forced to sleep on the streets and called on him to be the sort of leader the city needs, who will free people up to get work done.