At the end of 2015 Bristol was praised as the greatest contributor to wealth outside London. The Office of National Statistics showed that by the end of 2014, Bristol was the most productive city outside London. The city seems to be thriving.
This success hasn’t magically appeared in the last three years, but has been built over time by successive local business and community leaders.
I want to see that wealth coming back to our city with the investment in transport, housing, employment opportunities and the schools that we deserve.
We all know the problems faced by Bristolians every day: slow expensive buses, not enough school places, inadequate housing and frail grandparents needing support. The only way that we can achieve improvements is if we Bristolians work together to change things.
Working well with others is something the job of mayor needs. A programme driven from the top by ego or central party policy won’t work. Research shows that in Bristol “public perceptions relating to trust and representation remain disturbingly low” about the elected mayor.
Does Bristol deserve better? The answer has to be an absolute “yes”. It isn’t really a gain in democracy to move central government power from Westminster to one pair of hands in City Hall. Sharing power isn’t easy but it’s important to include communities, their leaders and councillors in decisions. A top-down approach will always lead to problems.
As someone born, raised and living in Bristol I understand the frustrations people feel. I didn’t go to a posh school; I’m from a single parent family and money was short. I’m a mother of two who has juggled family and work and succeeded by resilience. I value people and will listen.
The council needs to provide all the services a modern society needs from waste management to libraries, from good public transport to helping communities work together across cultural boundaries, and to do it well and effectively.
Providing excellent public transport is the only way to reduce congestion in the city. That means taking legal control of bus services so that they run where we want them, not at the whim of the bus companies. We need a good commuter train network around the city and getting the investment for that is a top priority.
After transport, the most pressing issue in Bristol is the cost of housing. There will not be a quick solution to this but Bristol desperately needs more affordable housing. People living on the edges of the city where housing is cheaper and commuting in to work contribute to congestion and air pollution.
We need more affordable homes and making sure all new housing developments have the required 30-40 per cent affordable homes is important. So too is looking at new and better ways of building homes quickly and cheaply for the council, such as modular designs often used in the rest of the world.
Bristol’s prosperity isn’t shared evenly across the city. Life expectancy for both men and women in Bristol is lower than the England average. The difference between the life span of people in the richer parts of the city such as Stoke Bishop and those in the poorer areas is a massive nine years for men and six and a half years for women.
And that isn’t all. In 2015, the government body Public Health England published shocking figures for child poverty in Bristol. Their report says “deprivation is higher than average and about 23.6 per cent (18,700) children live in poverty”. That’s right – about 600 school classes.
In reducing the inequalities, we need good education and employment opportunities at all levels. By far the best opportunities to improve the situation come from the many small businesses across the city.
Small businesses account for nearly 50 per cent of the entire UK economy and yet they are often overlooked in legislation and support. Three quarters of all small businesses do not employ anyone aside from the owner.
Just think of the start-up web designers or consultants, the electricians and the plumbers scattered across Bristol. Those businesses need support from the Local Enterprise Partnership, Business West, and the mayor to thrive and expand.
My background experience is wide. That gives me a fresh perspective on local politics. I gained international recognition as a research scientist at Bristol University before becoming a director of our small family businesses.
I have worked helping African countries feed themselves, being a non-executive director of an NHS Trust, a member of the governing body of the University of Bristol for many years and established a large conservation area in Somerset. I am currently a Board member of two well-respected Bristol charities.
Kay Barnard is the Lib Dem candidate for Bristol mayor.
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/