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Group leader responds to the Mayor's Annual Speech


At July 17 Full Council, Bristol Green Group leader Councillor Eleanor Combley responded to the Mayor's Annual Speech. Full text below:


I don’t really like being in opposition, I didn’t come into politics for the fighting and the tit-for-tat. I came into politics because I was attracted to the idea of working together for the common good. And, as Greens, we have managed some of that in the two years I’ve been a councillor. We have seconded motions proposed by other parties, and invited members of other parties to second ours, or even co-wrote them. We have contributed in cabinet, as long as we were allowed. We have proposed helpful amendments to the budget, which were so sensible, so unarguable, so financially sound, that they received full cross-party support.

And that’s the kind of spirit we need to move this city towards a positive vision of the future. Because Bristol can be a place where all of us can live healthier, happier lives, in communities strong enough and resilient enough to weather the global storms (both literal and metaphorical).

However, sometimes I do have to react to what is put in front of me. We’ve heard a lot of beautiful words today, we keep hearing a lot of beautiful words, but the gulf between those words and the reality of the actions I see, and what people around me experience, is so huge that I can’t be silent. I find myself like the child in the nursery story who just can’t help blurting out that the emperor isn’t quite as well-dressed as he thinks and I can’t keep myself from speaking out.

Words like respect, care, grace, jar with actions like firing people who have worked with you and for you for years without even having the decency to speak to them yourself.

Words like collaborative suggest a willingness to ask for other perspectives and respect different opinions. They don’t sit well with harsh public criticism the instant your colleagues don’t come to the conclusion you want.

I hear words like wellbeing, then see the city thrown at the mercy of investors, who are invited to build high rises to maximise the return on their investment, and further inflate local rents and house prices, regardless of whether the people of Bristol actually prefer their city’s wide open and distinctive views and want homes that are built to live well in, as part of a community.

The talk of enabling and working with citizens, is not reflected in simultaneously dumping more work on volunteers to fill the gaps in what you aren’t willing to fund, and at the same time pulling the rug out from under their feet by withdrawing any support or cooperation that used to be given from the council side.

How can we square the claim that this administration is delivering for the city, when their eagerness to review everything done by the previous administration means that, for example, the whole highways department is so busy chasing their tails that no community can get a road safety sign put up or a double yellow line painted around a corner?

Sometimes it feels like the words take priority over the reality, so that it becomes more important that you can put on your election leaflets that you have kept the Children’s Centres open than to actually safeguard the services they provide. So you end up keeping them open as buildings maybe, but with jobs and services cut to the point that they are not necessarily really Children’s Centres any more.

This city needs more than words.

This city needs openness and transparency, a genuine commitment to a democracy that gives people a real say in the decisions that affect their lives. Opening up your plans to scrutiny and possibly criticism can be hard, but it does lead to better decisions.

This city needs urgent action on air quality, on achieving environmental sustainability, and on making real steps to mitigate and adapt to climate change. That requires not only the willingness to listen to all the evidence, but also the courage to then stand up and lead when it is clear where the evidence points.

This city needs planning and transport design that looks to the future, and doesn’t assume everyone driving around in private cars, with the social separation and the huge waste of resources and space that entails, is the only way things can be forever.

This city needs a commitment to social justice and community that doesn’t run and hide at the first sign of lobbying from commercial interests.

We know that times are hard and money is short and that many of the challenges facing the city, from the rise in homelessness to the crisis in our mental health, have bigger, broader causes than the actions of the city council, but that doesn’t excuse us from doing what we can. If our ability to act is limited, it strengthens the need for every decision to be a move in the right direction. If the challenges facing us are complex and far reaching, all the more reason to include the dissenting voices that help us to build a richer picture. If we are serious about building a better Bristol for all our futures it is going to take more than fine words to get us there, we need actions that live up to them.

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