In March 2012, we showed our great independent spirit by being the only English city to decide to vote to have an elected mayor. I decided to stand as Bristol had suffered from years of political bickering and a lack of clear direction.
To many people’s surprise, not least mine, in November 2012 I became the only independent leader of a UK city – answerable directly to the people of Bristol rather than to a political party.
I have had a lifetime experience of living and working in Bristol, as an architect and social entrepreneur, as well as leading national and international organisations. Not for one minute have I regretted my decision. It is a real privilege to be Bristol’s first directly elected leader and to serve the people of the city I love.
Even my harshest critics would agree that I ‘get stuff done’! However, I know only too well that it can take three years to build a house from concept to completion, let alone turn a city around. I strongly believe we would put all this at risk if we return to the split loyalties of old politics.
On my first day I was faced with swingeing Government cuts. Yet in just three years we have restructured the Council and used our wits to save key services that many other cities have lost.
We have put ourselves in the premier league amongst provincial cities across the world as a result of our European Green Capital status, and other energy and environmental initiatives, giving us a leading role at the Paris Climate Summit in December.
All this is contributing to our economic success, a success that has given us exceptional growth in jobs over the past three years. However we must also ensure that the benefits are shared.
This can best be done if we accept the £1 billion devolution offer from Westminster to enable us to tackle those issues that divide us, transport, housing, education and skills, and of course health.
We are at last, after 30 years of failure to build social housing, and in spite of Government t throwing every obstacle in our path, building Council homes again. Bristol is now also building more homes per head of population than any other major city in the UK and over 2000 empty homes have been put into use over the past three years.
Government cuts have put more people into destitution. In response we are providing more emergency beds, and have secured £10 million to buy 80 flats to take families out of B&B accommodation.
There are huge historic differentials in health and wealth. I am fighting for a fairer city through greater social mobility with access to apprenticeships and jobs. We are leading by example by doubling our apprenticeships at the City Council, one third coming from the BME community and a majority from the more deprived areas. With the private sector I shall, in my second term, introduce the Fairer Bristol Business Charter to encourage employment from the more deprived areas and communities.
Bristol has failed to deliver major transport infrastructure for decades, but we are at last delivering an improved Metrobus project that will be up and running in 18 months.
This will be reinforced by MetroWest rail up to 2020 and beyond. At long last, public transport can become an accessible viable alternative to the car. By a combination of measures, including fairer fares, parking schemes and 20mph limits, bus use is up by 25% over the past 2 years, and there are more people opting for active travel.
There is so much more to say, but my message is that, free of the distraction of party politics, I have no other purpose but to work with you to leave Bristol an even better place.
It is because of my lifelong skills and experience – as architect, business leader and social entrepreneur that I am confident I can deliver by 2020.
I want my legacy to be a fairer city with good salaries, a learning city with great schools, more people in inspiring work, a world-class arena to open in 2018, thousands of new homes, and the transport infrastructure that we have failed to deliver for generations!
There is no limit to my ambition for Bristol: UNESCO Learning City 2016, City of Sport 2017, Arena City 2018, Creative City, Child Friendly City, Age Friendly City, Rockefeller Global Resilient City, Smart City, Entrepreneurial City, Full Employment City, Capital of Culture 2023 and Zero Carbon City 2050 – and the list goes on…
Mayor of Bristol is one of the biggest roles in the UK. It’s not to be taken lightly. It is certainly not an entry-level job. It would be tragic to put all this at risk with an experiment in Corbyn-omics!
George Ferguson is the incumbent mayor of Bristol.
Bristol24/7 is hosting a mayoral hustings featuring all candidates at The Lantern at 7pm on Thursday, April 28. Entrance is first come first served. For more information, visit www.colstonhall.org/shows/mayoral-hustings/