Councillor Marg Hickman, Leader of the Bristol Labour Group of Councillors, responded to Mayor Marvin Rees’ annual address.
Speaking from the red benches of Bristol City Hall’s Council Chamber, she said:
Thank you, Lord Mayor.
And thank you, Marvin, for an annual statement so full of optimism, so unapologetic in its ambition for Bristol and its people.
Built on the strong foundation of Labour values – guiding policies that will see everyone share in this city’s success – yours is an administration which listens to, delivers for, and backs ordinary Bristolians.
I have represented Lawrence Hill for seven years. Since your last address, major city projects either in or adjacent to our ward have moved forward.
Plans to invest 300 million pounds in a new university campus; millions secured to support master-planning work for the refurbishment of Bristol Temple Meads, leveraging more Network Rail funding to increase capacity; an ambitious Housing Infrastructure Fund bid which would unlock around 4,000 new homes nearby; and, on the doorstep of the Dings – and too often with more hot air involved than the Balloon Fiesta – is Temple Island.
The arena is a complex project. It’s far from a binary decision.
I am glad that you have addressed this topic today. There can be no doubt that you are committed to delivering an arena which the city needs, the council can afford, and which Bristolians can be proud of.
Our ward is amongst the most deprived areas in Bristol and in the country.
An alternative site use might provide three times as many jobs for Bristolians, but this potential has not generated the coverage or column inches it warrants.
Local people also already face some of the worst air pollution in Bristol.
The prospect of three or four thousand extra cars travelling to, and idling near, a venue three or four nights a week has to be factored in. These are key questions of social and environmental justice and ones which I’m not convinced that current transport plans account for.
That said, I completely back our city centre and see the attraction of building an arena on Temple Island.
But the numbers really do have to stack up. Close to 200 million pounds was clearly untenable.
Questions also remain over capacity, given the world’s biggest artist, Beyoncé, has not played UK venues as small as the proposed Temple Island arena for almost a decade.
Terminating the first agreement was a brave and necessary move.
Even Gary Hopkins has said so! From Beyoncé to Gary Hopkins in two sentences – imagine.
Through holding your nerve since then, Marvin, the potential developer and operator have presented improved terms – even offering to take on all of the risk.
This would save Bristol’s taxpayers tens of millions of pounds. So I say this: keep holding your nerve to get the best deal for Bristol.
Now, a lot has happened since your last annual statement.
All the while, historic cuts to local government have continued. One council has fallen off the cliff.
Others aren’t far behind, thanks to the austerity started by the Tories and Lib Dems, while Labour continues to fight for more money and more powers for Bristol.
Even more has changed since 2016.
Bundred exposed a council in chaos. Crucially, Labour has restored competence.
As the report into Northamptonshire Council said: “In Local Government there is no substitute for doing boring really well.”
We have. And as a result of this financial rigour:
We have invested in the city which we are all proud to call home. We have cut backroom costs to protect frontline public services.
Almost one million pounds a year has been cut out of City Hall senior management – something which not one member opposite supported in February.
Because of diligence on this side of the chamber, every single library and every single children’s centre has been safeguarded by Labour despite Tory austerity.
Politics is about priorities. The last year has shown how important strong Labour leadership is to this council, and to our city.
The Tory poor tax amendment, which would have hit two and a half thousand of the poorest people in Lawrence Hill, along with over 20 thousand more across the city – including six thousand people in the wards they claim to represent.
The Lib Dems, with their heads in the clouds on finance and their heads in the sand – still – on the role their MPs played in the coalition.
And, after we agreed one million pounds of amendments with the Green Party, they had the audacity to vote against their own amendments, against this Labour administration’s investment in renewable energy, and against our measures to tackle climate change.
We reached across the aisle on the Budget, but too often some members still seem focused on biting our fingers rather than working hand-in-hand for the benefit of Bristol.
On top of the ever-increasing list of manifesto commitments which Labour have delivered, our administration have:
- Transformed social care and invested more than a million pounds to increase the wages of care workers;
- Become the first council in the country to Ban the Box – once again demonstrating our commitment to build a Bristol where everyone has a chance to share in the city’s success;
- Kick-started Bristol’s biggest council house-building project in a generation;
- Worked hard to be on track to beat ambitious targets for 2,000 new homes – including 800 affordable – being built in the city by 2020;
- Introduced a council tax exemption for care leavers;
- Remained the only core city to retain a full council tax reduction scheme while levying the full charges on second homes;
While others flounder, the ‘green shoots’ of municipal socialism described by Jeremy Corbyn are truly flourishing here in Bristol.
While I am proud of Marvin and the cabinet, I am also really proud of our comrades in the Labour Group who sit with us on these suitably red benches.
In this centenary year of some women winning the right to vote, I want to shine the spotlight on Labour’s women councillors.
While Bristol’s known around the world for Aardman and Attenborough, balloons and Banksy, we are also taking huge steps to broaden access to our cultural scene.
This sector’s deserved reputation received a boost this year when, thanks to the hard work of Estella, in partnership with local universities and others, Bristol was awarded UNESCO City of Film status.
This is a feather in our city’s cap as the Mayor and the city continue to campaign for Channel 4 to relocate here. It’s a huge achievement for Bristol to have been shortlisted, and testament to the work of so many.
Estella has also been working closely with Jo on the future of our city’s libraries.
Labour’s financial competence has ensured each and every one of them stays open. That is for certain.
Honestly, Bristol needs to pull together – all sectors, all communities, and all parties – to think about what a library service should be in the 21st century.
Modernised. Transformed. Digital. Fit for purpose. True hubs for the whole community.
The imagination of two former branch librarians on these benches will, I’m sure, continue to be a credit to the city.
Harriet’s work with officers, generous businesses and community groups, and Asher has helped see some 60 venues sign up to the council’s new community toilets scheme.
These are on top of more than 20 accessible loos in Greater Bedminster’s community network and more than a dozen public toilets still run by the council, with more toilets due to invested in for our parks this summer.
All of Bristol’s Labour women councillors have pulled together this year, campaigning against changes planned by the local NHS.
Thanks to these efforts – spearheaded by Gill, Celia, and Brenda, along with women from across the city – consultations were extended, plans to limit access to IVF treatment were dropped, and cuts to breast cancer reconstruction surgery have been put on hold.
Having celebrated the 70th birthday of our NHS earlier this month, Celia’s golden motion later today reminds us of the need to fight for truly universal healthcare in Bristol and beyond – including around mental health.
When the world feels more uncertain than ever, it’s never been more important for Bristol to stand up – proud – as a city of sanctuary. One of Ron Stone’s finest achievements.
Ruth, who coordinates our involvement in the Inclusive Cities network, has led the way on refugee rights for many years.
Her leadership saw the Labour Group become the first party in the city to back the Dignity Not Destitution campaign, underscoring our commitment to some of the most vulnerable people in our society. BCFM’s diverse politician of the year award adds to her MBE and shows what a credit she is to this administration.
To sum up: thank you Marvin for your speech today.
Thank you to the cabinet and Group for your hard work too, and to council officers for implementing our progressive agenda for Bristol.
Here’s to another year of Labour delivering for Bristol.