I am standing to be mayor because I want Bristol to flourish. That means securing a strong economy in which the city’s wealth and opportunity is shared, developing a participatory democracy that reflects and represents the breadth of our population and nurturing a thriving society in which we live well together, within and across our diversity.
It has become a truism to say Bristol is a great city. We are ranked among the happiest cities in the UK. We are officially a smiley city. We have green space. We are creative and do things differently. We even have our own sound. We have the three Bs: balloons, bridges and Brunel. We have a powerful economy and are the only region outside the South East to be a net contributor to the Treasury.
But there are fundamental challenges that threaten Bristol’s future. While our economy grows, Bristol is increasingly unequal and unaffordable. Nearly a quarter of our children grow up in poverty and there are parts of the city that rank among the top 1 per cent most deprived in England.
You can cross the border between Henleaze to Southmead and the life expectancy of people born in those areas drops by nine years. If you live in Clifton you have an 80 per cent chance of going to university. In Filwood it is five per cent.
This is not only a moral problem. It is an economic and political liability. We lose out on millions of pounds worth of talent and creativity because poverty rubs out opportunity and we live in a society in which life prospects are determined by background.
Also, we end up spending money of the social consequences of poverty and inequality. The authors of “The Spirit Level” Richard Wilson and Kate Picket cite Harvard professor Ichiro Kawachi, one of the foremost researchers in this field, in describing inequality as a social pollutant. They argue that on every measure, more equal societies at every social level do better. Tackling inequality must now be on a par with securing economic growth, as foundational policy for a strong future.
To secure our future I will build 2,000 homes a year – 800 of which will be affordable – by 2020. I will connect people to opportunity by introducing the integrated transport system Bristol is crying out for and I will tackle health inequalities by introducing breakfast clubs to every school so every child has access to one to meal a day, and by protecting children’s centres across the city.
I will work with schools and youth services and the voluntary sector to roll out a mental health and well being programme for all primary age children and I am committing Bristol to becoming a zero emissions city by 2050. I will work with head teachers to tackle the concentrations of deprivation and free school meals in some schools and affluence in others and I will initiate a review of all resident parking zones to ensure they work for communities and local businesses.
I will deliver this change through a new kind of city leadership. For Bristol to flourish, all parties and city institutions must work together towards shared aims. Our city’s deep-seated problems can only be solved by working together, so I will set up a city office to take us beyond local government toward city governance, bringing together leaders from health, education, business, unions, the voluntary and community sector with councillors from all party boundaries, to deliver democratically-agreed policies.
Finally, I want to give Bristol back to Bristolians. The current interpretation of the mayoral model of governance has concentrated power in the hands of a single person and that has not been healthy for Bristol.
I will ensure political power, shared with my cross party cabinet and councillors, is accountable. And I will campaign to ensure more people are able to participate and influence the city’s decision making. The leadership that will deliver for Bristol is a leadership that listens, includes and creates the conditions for those around it to flourish.
If we want genuine political change, we have to understand what it is and work for it. Change is not about party labels. Real political change is about bringing people from new backgrounds into public leadership so that city decisions are made by people from right across the city from Hartcliffe to Southville, from Lawrence Hill, to Clifton to Avonmouth. We need the voices of the wealthiest and the poorest, men and women and all Bristol’s ethnicities at our decision- making table.
I want Bristol to be a better place. It will be when it is truly ours. All Bristolians will be able to smile and have fun when we have homes and jobs.
Marvin Rees is the Labour Party 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/