News: Mayor’s State of the City address – in full

George Ferguson, November 20, 2015

My newest granddaughter was born last week – in November 2065 she will be 50 and may well by then have grandchildren of her own! What sort of city do we want for her and your grandchildren to inherit? What sort of world do we want to leave behind us? To get there what do we need to do today? 

I hold the view that there is no value in a short term vision. The vision I have for Bristol is realistic but it will not be achieved overnight. It is unashamedly independent and unequivocally biased towards our city. It is something that has evolved from 50 years of personal and professional experience in Bristol. 

It is apt then that we are today concluding Bristol’s great Festival of the Future City. I have today been at the ‘Bristol Day’ event where they are looking 50 years ahead, thinking to a time when I hope your postcode within the city does not determine your health, wealth or life chances. 

All of the decisions that we all as a city make today will help bring about that future – one I am determined to make sure is a healthier, happier and fairer future – one which has a keen sense of social justice, while encouraging entrepreneurs, creating great jobs with a can-do business attitude, whilst also caring deeply about the environment. 

We have much further to go to make all of this happen, but we have already started the journey and have together, come a very long way.

And so, after a full and fulfilling 3 years in what is to me the best job in the world, I want to start by thanking all of you who have helped make this city what it is. I want to thank the businesses that drive our growing and thriving local economy, the teachers who inspire our children, the carers and great volunteer community who look after our most vulnerable, the community groups, the hospital workers, the street cleaners, the dreamers …

… all those who call Bristol home and are contributing to its future. 

Bristol is a wonderfully complex, diverse and historic city with all its associated challenges. It overflows with talent, professional skills, and a great sense of optimism (tainted with some healthy cynicism) that sets us apart from the rest. 

In Bristol we’ve been pioneers from Brunel to the Bristol Brain – of which more soon – and in keeping with tradition, this year we’ve achieved a remarkable world first. 

Digital technology changes our lives every day and ‘Bristol Is Open’ is the world’s first Software Controlled, city-scale, real-world, optical, wireless and mesh network. 

It is also the very first ever 50/50 joint venture between the Council and this University, my university! 

On Wednesday this week we launched the Bristol Data Dome, in At-Bristol’s new 3D Planetarium.  The Dome connects this digital network to the University’s super computer, allowing ultra-high definition content to flow from across the City into the Dome – which at 2.1bn pixels, is the highest definition projection environment in the UK today. 

The Bristol Is Open network will enable digital experimentation for tomorrow’s technologies – Anything from driverless cars to 5G mobile internet to the Internet of Everything, developers can come and invent or play on a network not seen anywhere else outside lab conditions, allowing for true experimentation in a very real city environment as Bristol grows its reputation as a pioneering place. 

Looking ahead we will use data gathered from the network to create the Bristol Brain, one of the transformational actions we shall present to the world at the UN global climate summit in a couple of weeks, when we co-host the Cities and Regions Pavilion with the City of Paris and the global local government sustainability network, ICLEI. 

The Brain is a real-time 3D visualisation of the pulse of the city, from energy consumption, to traffic flows and weather data and we’ll be able to simulate the effect of new ideas or changes to how we manage the city.

This is a mere taste of a mind blowing project laying down the framework for our future city. 

As our tech sector continues to grow we are also working to train up our young people to be part of this future. In 2014 coding was introduced into the national curriculum but I want Bristol’s children to have a bigger and better helping start in life. 

That is why we have developed coding clubs run through our Bloomberg inspired City of Service volunteering scheme that provides additional support to 9-11 year olds. 

I want to see a “coding club” into every primary school in Bristol. Why coding? Because our high tech future has to be one open to every child. I want a future city where the people working in well paid high skilled jobs include the children who were educated in our schools and live in our communities.    

For this to happen we have to make this great city of ours a fairer city. And I passionately believe we can, by working together, open up opportunities to all.   

Part of opening up this city is about making sure the whole city is accessible and affordable for all to travel around. We have already taken great steps forward in this. From negotiating fairer bus fares to improving and moving forwards with the £200 million MetroBus scheme. This combined with measures such as resident parking schemes and 20mph has resulted in an impressive 25% increase in bus use in just the last 18 months, and we’ve witnessed an even greater increase in cycling.

But best of all these reforms will save lives. 

But for this to continue we need investment. That is why by 2020 we’ll have received half a billion pounds worth of further investment in our regional transport systems, including the MetroWest suburban rail. Over this last week we have been negotiating with the Treasury and DCLG for what should result in further devolved power and spending for the Bristol City Region as part of our devolution deal.  

This delivery of infrastructure is leading to a real transformation in how we will move around our city in a fairer more accessible way. 

But there is so much more that we must change. Fuel-poverty and, of course, homelessness are just two examples. For the last few decades homelessness has been one of the most significant challenges that we have faced in a growing city, this is why I set up an independent Homes Commission. Over the last five years the government has cut over 20 billion in benefits and social security. This combined with the post-election changes in government policy on social rent; housing benefit caps, together with extension of the right to buy has blown a massive hole through our well-laid plans and is leaving many people homeless and others on the brink. 

In the light of all this, our strategic housing partnership for the city, Homes4Bristol, has, following the Commission’s recommendations, prepared an amended Housing Strategy which we shall submit to Council in December and publish in January. 

This is something that we simply must get right, and as the person who has to take ultimate responsibility I am pleased to announce that from now on I shall be co-chairing an expanded Homes delivery board, alongside Louise Swain the CeO of Curo, one of our principal housing association partners. 

By working together, we can move up a gear in our response to the housing crisis, and I intend to seek amendments to the Council’s constitution so that key housing decisions can be taken by any future Mayor at this board. A priority of mine is to buy and build low cost ‘interim’ housing that gives people a home that they can call their own. 

As part of the plan we shall be releasing more city owned land for housing and I am delighted to announce today that a key site in Southmead, the old Dunmail school site, will be developed by Kevin McCloud’s HAB Housing in partnership with United Communities, to ensure we deliver an exemplar new energy efficient sustainable community development.

However we also have to make the most of what we’ve got, which is why we have invested nearly £140 million in improving the energy efficiency of our own buildings as well as making a major investment in wind and solar power, in the lead up to launching our own energy company, Bristol Energy, one of the first of its kind in the UK, with its triple bottom line of energy poverty, energy efficiency and income to the city. 

We should be proud that, as the UK’s first ever European Green Capital, we continue to lead the way in tackling a growing environmental crisis that’s increasingly impacting on us all. As a Council are setting the example, having reached our own ambitious 2020 target of 40% reduction in CO2 emissions 5 years early. We are all part of this change – and I encourage all who can to show our strength of feeling by joining the Bristol Climate March on Sunday 29th of this month on the eve of the Paris COP.

The breadth of initiatives in Bristol is remarkable. In the past year alone, around 1,200 solar panels have been installed on our own buildings, saving around 130 tonnes of C02. Plans for two solar parks with over 10 MW capacities are at an advanced stage.

But we can and we must as a city go further. 

I hugely value our two universities, both of whom are key partners in co-designing the city. In a recent University of Bristol report nicknamed the ‘mini-Stern’ review for the ‘City of Bristol’ it highlighted our potential to reach new heights in terms of energy saving. 

As the report made clear, being sustainable isn’t just about cleaning up our act, but also about ensuring that we find alternative funding streams and revenue savings to release our reliance on diminishing Government funding. 

That is why here today I take up the challenge laid down by the report by committing Bristol to finding future CO2 reductions of 40% by 2020, 50% by 2025, 60% by 2035, 80% by 2050, and an ambition that we reach zero CO2 within 50 years.

However, I am, as Al Gore so aptly understated this week, ‘puzzled’ by the Government’s current approach which is endangering our future.

We must consider how all our actions impact on the next generation. I want our grandchildren to be able to live in this city breathing air as clean as they would living on a farm in the Mendips.

Last week I attended the inaugural Bristol Child Friendly City symposium which included children from the inspiring Room 13 art room in Hartcliffe and from the wonderful Felix Rd Adventure Playground in Easton. This symposium was the first step on our journey to becoming formally recognised by UNICEF as a Child Friendly City. Because a city that is good our children is good for us all. 

As such, I will ensure everything we do takes children into proper consideration – as we do for our older population. This approach, working with our young people, will undoubtedly benefit all of us. 

Children need green environments to grow and learn – and there is nothing better than hands on learning. That is why I have been such an advocate of the One Tree Per Child scheme which allows every Primary School child to have a real involvement and sense of ownership of their city and its green spaces through planting trees. 

This is a great Green Capital legacy that has gone global, inspiring cities from Australia to Africa and beyond.

Looking back on the past eleven months of our year as European Green Capital, I am delighted that we have been able to demonstrate through schemes like our environmental education programme what’s possible when everybody comes together to inspire, create and achieve a shared vision for Bristol.

However it is the poorest, in both our local and our global communities that are bound to suffer the most from climate change – whether it is from energy poverty in Bristol or enforced mass migration on a scale the world has never seen. 

As climate change knows no boundaries we cannot work in isolation either locally or globally. 

For it is only through getting a wide range of citizens and communities involved and giving them the power to change things, is it possible to find the answers to the challenges we face in creating a more sustainable future, a greener future and yes, a fairer future. 

And Bristol is leading the way and the world is taking note. Thanks to European Green Capital we have received over 70 formal international delegations so far this year alone – ten times the usual number. 

People are now noticing us because of our hard work. 

No one will invest in a city that they have never heard of and now I can proudly say that from Beijing to Brussels, from Boston to Barcelona, Bristol is recognised as a highly creative global city. 

In that vein, I am delighted to announce that just two days ago we submitted our bid to become European City of Innovation for 2016 in order to showcase our future city thinking.

Also, resulting from my mayoral sports commission, the Bristol Sports Partnership have submitted an impressive bid to become city of Sport 2017, for which we’ll all keep our fingers crossed. But my ambition for Bristol has no limits, and I intend to work with our key city partners to consider an application for the prestigious European Capital of Culture for 2023, which proved so transformational for Liverpool in 2008. 

But despite all we’ve achieved in the last few years, some issues are painfully slow to change. The fact that there is still almost a 10 year life expectancy differential depending on where you live in the city, is hard to stomach. 

That is why, with Doctor Martin Jones, the Chair of the Bristol Clinical Commissioning Group, I decided to co-chair the Health and Wellbeing Board, bringing together all those involved with public health and primary care, with a principal aim of creating a healthy city for all. 

Recently we invited representatives of the Bristol Youth Council, some of whom are here today, to talk to us about one of their key campaigns for this year – tackling mental health. This was an opportunity for the young people of this city to put an issue that they’re passionate about, in front of those who can make a difference. 

From that meeting the support, advice and guidance the young people needed to take their campaign forward has been given and, thanks to them, we are firmly on the long road to tackling this taboo.

This is all about including those who will live with the consequences of decisions today – so it is absolutely right that they are included in the process that determines our future. 

Learning is for the young at heart as well as the young. Every day I learn something new, which is why I am delighted that city leaders have responded so enthusiastically to my invitation to come together to form the Learning City Partnership, a collaboration between our universities, schools, businesses and others interested in learning on all levels. 

We are the first Learning City in England and benefit hugely from being part of the global network of Learning Cities. Through our local partnership we want to develop a place where lifelong learning breaks down the barriers to social mobility.  

That is why tonight I announce that we are launching Bristol Learning City Year in 2016 to touch all ages and all communities.  

This will carry the momentum on from our year as European Green Capital, that absolutely has education and sustainability at its heart. 

Bristol is a great place to learn and we now have so much to be proud of. We have upped our game and at long last have more good and outstanding schools than the national average, something that’s vitally important to the success of our young people and to the economic success of our city. But we shall not rest on our laurels – we want to be nothing short of outstanding, making a step change in 2016.

Connecting our educators and trainers with our businesses is the key to ensuring we have a qualified workforce for today and we are ready for the future. We are therefore in discussion with the business community planning a virtual EngagementHub with a physical presence in the Temple Quarter Enterprise Zone, to connect business with educators and young people – a single site to develop employability and enterprise skills. 

During 2016 Bristol Year of Learning, I ask that we all get behind this vision, as ambassadors and role models, encouraging everyone to take part in the Bristol Learns campaign that will be launched in January. 

But I also wanted to talk today about something even more fundamental in our communities, something that stops people from accessing education, services and community life. It is something that we have to tackle before we can hope to move our city on… prejudice and discrimination.

Driven by the Women’s Commission with great support from both the council and our two universities the ‘Zero Tolerance’ campaign has launched a campaign that we should all get behind to say that as a city, as a community, we shall not tolerate any form of gender-based violence. 


I am delighted that we have the Police, our Universities, First Bus, the City of Bristol College, Bristol Post, Business West and many others all signed up to the campaign. This is having a real impact across the city. 

Accepting these home truths in all forms of discrimination is the first step to spotting the importance of initiatives such as the Bristol Manifesto for Race Equality. 

I have been determined to encourage this manifesto process and I want to pay particular tribute to those who drafted it. This committed group of local people and agencies who share my passion for promoting human rights and race equality across Bristol are, to mention just a few – Voscur, Bristol BME Voice, SARI, the Black Police Association, Nilaari, NHS and council workers and other dedicated individuals – including I should add, my mayoral opponent Marvin Rees who has worked tirelessly on this issue.  

So, thank you all for this vitally important on-going work.  

Tackling social inequalities though cannot be separated from making Bristol the prime home for business outside London. A skilled workforce attracts business, but equally business can provide the training and mentoring to encourage social mobility and enable Bristolians to escape poverty, realise their full potential, and develop fulfilling careers. 

Bristol is enjoying world beating success in sectors such as micro-electronics and clean technology, as well as in creative industries and professional services – what I am interested in now, is how we can work with business to grow on this success in a way that benefits everyone. 

In the last couple of years we have seen a boom in successful start-ups and this is at least in part to do with Engine Shed, which was the product of one of my first key decisions, a joint initiative with Bristol University that houses SetSquared, one of the world’s leading business incubators. It has seen such success it is bursting out of its building with Engine Shed 2 temporarily housed in customised shipping containers while we plan its permanent home in the country’s most successful Enterprise Zone. It is not only attracting business into the heart of our city but marks the beginning of what will be a transformation in and around Temple Meads.  

The Temple Quarter Enterprise Zone also includes delivery of the Bristol Arena. As I promised we have made this 30 year long conversation a reality in just 3 years. In a few months it should move into the construction stage.

These developments will bring thousands of jobs to the area. 

Last year I stood on this stage and showed you the 5 shortlisted designs. This year I can show you the developing scheme as the building of the bridge to Arena Island nears completion. Projects of this scale are challenging – but we have gathered the right skills to ensure that after decades of trying we will have the best arena in the country. 

Yes, Bristol is booming. The combination of our city being the right place to live, learn, work, and play has attracted some of the best businesses to our city, with over 300 companies already in the Enterprise Zone and others queuing up to come.

I firmly believe that attracting top businesses to Bristol, and helping foster a culture that champions social mobility and ensures that talent can rise in every community regardless of people’s backgrounds and upbringing, together we will make this great city of ours a much fairer city as we continue to lift more people out of unemployment and into work. 

Bristol is bucking the trend, employment rates are continuing to rise and the number of young people from across the city claiming Job Seekers Allowance is down by a third. 

I want to be very clear at this point. Our success, our contribution to the local economy cannot be bounded by artificial political boundaries. When business or government looks at Bristol as a place to invest, they see the whole city region. 

With faster transport links through the electrification of the railway combined with more high tech working, our city region will only grow in importance as we strengthen our partnerships with our neighbouring authorities in the West of England. 

Whether we are talking about transport, housing or business development, it is essential to look at this whole region not just our city. What makes our region greater undoubtedly makes our city stronger. 

This is also why we are working increasingly closely with Cardiff and Newport, with whom we are progressing the Great Western Cities powerhouse, which is less to do with devolution but much more to do with inward investment and national infrastructure.

For too long old political rivalries have stood in the way of progress, focusing too much on competing interests rather than getting stuff done. 

This is changing.

For the sake of our future cities we have to work alongside our communities, our neighbouring authorities, and of course those who hold the purse strings – central government. 

I will work with anyone if it is in Bristol’s interests. We are witnessing times of significant change with how we do local politics and some are struggling to keep up with this change. 

Some may have struggled with the idea of a four party rainbow cabinet, thinking it was too radical to work. I am delighted that this has, thanks to my Deputy Mayor Geoff, and Assistant Mayors Brenda, Daniella and Simon, who have given such strong support in delivering real results for Bristol. 

It is because of this I am delighted to announce another innovation in how we do local politics that I hope will allow more flexibility for working mothers in particular. Daniella Radice has today asked if her fellow Green Cllr Fi Hance will job-share the role of Assistant Mayor for Neighbourhoods and I am delighted here tonight to accept.

Job-sharing is a practical solution to the pressures of modern life. Politics must adapt to allow people from all sorts of backgrounds to access the top jobs of our democracy. 

These radical democratic ideas, putting people before politics, are a sign of things to come, a sign of our future city. 

Talking of which….Sharing the stage with me today are Bristol’s two Youth Mayors, Neha and Thanushan. Both of whom are great representatives not just of the city’s young people but also for the city as a whole. We have two articulate passionate individuals elected by their fellow Bristol Youth Councillors, who were voted for by over 10,000 of the city’s young people, and it is a pleasure working with them. 

I am conscious that I want to allow time to hear from them and their fellow panellists, so it will be a great relief to you all that I am about to bring this speech to a close – and a relief to me to. 

Bristol is moving forward and I am proud of what has been achieved so far. Our economy is booming, but we must make sure the benefits are felt across the city. For generations this has not been the case, but we are now working towards that. That is why we are making Bristol a resilient city that invests in our workforce, people and infrastructure. 

As someone who has lived and worked in this city for over 50 years, there remains nothing I enjoy doing more than walking or cycling round the city, talking and listening to people from every part of Bristol – hearing their concerns, their ambitions, and their reflections on all that makes this city what it is and how they think it can be improved. 

My policies come from my experiences and interaction and my own attachment to Bristol.

The Mayoral system of governance has transformed the way our city works. After years of delays it has freed up the city to deliver more in the last three years than we have seen in the preceding decade. But this success can only be sustained if we bring on board all stakeholders – business, the voluntary sector, religious groups, and of course, each of you….

Only through working with each of you can we continue to see, not just the delivery of projects, growth and development, but also the essential move to make sure this great city of ours has a future where fairness is hardwired into our DNA, where everyone has a stake in Bristol’s success and where opportunity is not just in the hands of a select few but is shared across all communities.

This is a Bristol that’s proudly leading the way on technical innovation. It’s a city where our school children break world records for random acts of kindness, not just a liveable city but a loveable city, where creating a safe and healthy environment is a priority and where we’re committed to fighting prejudice and giving everyone a great education and the opportunity of lifelong learning.

This has been at the heart of everything I have done and is why I decided to run for mayor at the tender age of 65. My promise to you here today is that I will continue to serve you, to serve Bristol, for as long as I retain the huge privilege of being your Mayor. 

Thank you very much.    

Like this? You might be interested in...