In a full council session this evening Bristol Green councillors criticised the administration for failing to properly implement important recommendations from its own report on governance, while cutting costs by withdrawing support from overburdened community groups and volunteers.
In his response to the Council’s statement on the Bundred report,* Councillor Clive Stevens said “This report has so much potential for good. At its heart Bundred is about getting officers and councillors to talk and work together” listing examples of ‘silo thinking’ where council departments contradicted each other due to failures to communicate.
Councillor Steve Clarke pointed out that some of the changes the council is currently proposing to make to its constitution go against the report’s recommendations – for example reducing the capability of councillors to scrutinise what the council does. He also referred to “examples of where councillors are, on the one hand being encouraged to be part of the consultation process but are then largely ignored when decisions are actually made”.
Summing up, he said that councillors “want to be more involved and Bundred tells us we must be. There is no use in the council either not building in enough member oversight, or just having a process that they pay lip-service to and then ignoring the results. If this warning is not heard we are very likely to be having this debate again in a few years time.”
Responding to the Mayor’s annual state of the City address, leader of the Green Group Councillor Eleanor Combley drew attention to the scale of Bristol’s ongoing homelessness crisis. She also raised concerns about volunteer engagement and a glut of senior staff leaving the council, saying:
“Within our organisation, Bundred put it pretty clearly when he reported that “by any standards the degree of churn in the Council’s senior management is extraordinary”. That was before most of the recent departures were announced - we seem to be haemorrhaging senior staff at an alarming rate. I think this warrants at least a careful look at how we are managing staff, how they can feel properly valued for their work and as individuals, making it possible for them to do work they can be proud of and want to continue with.
And out in the wider city, I see volunteers looking weary. From parks groups to litter picks to library friends, people are standing down or stepping back or looking fairly irritated. And is that any surprise when we are asking more and more of our voluntary sector, and at the same time taking away the little support we used to give them? The current round of cuts hasn’t started to bite yet, but with the consultation going public, their depth is becoming clear, and people are starting to realise just what they are faced with.”
Councillor Combley also called for the Mayor to demonstrate stronger and more liberating leadership. She said:
“The challenges we face as a city need a special kind of leadership – not a manager or a controller, not someone who pulls power and control in towards himself, but a liberating leader, someone with the courage to free people to do their best work, but also to make mistakes, even knowing that he will take the blame for allowing it. Although it has been a year, Bristol hasn’t seen enough yet to know whether you are capable of growing into that leader – but we hope for all our sakes that you are willing at least to move in that direction.”
*The Council’s independent report on its £29 million budget hole, which highlighted wide ranging issues of internal governance.