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Political leaders call for end to ‘cheap shots’ and ‘vanity projects’

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Bristol’s political leaders took sideswipes at each other as they laid out their intentions for the next three years in their first formal speeches in City Hall following May’s elections.

The Labour mayor and the leaders of the three opposition groups set out their stalls at a full meeting of elected members of Bristol City Council on Tuesday (July 6).

Olive branches were extended as everyone acknowledged the need to work together to tackle the myriad of complex challenges facing the city – from Covid to housing to transport to climate.

READ MORE: Councillor lodges formal complaint after being blocked on Twitter by Bristol mayor

But old arguments were never very far from the surface, as Marvin Rees called for an end to “cheap shots on Twitter” and the opposition called for an end to expensive “vanity projects”.

Mr Rees promised he would spend the next three years focused on “inclusion, sustainability and delivery”. That meant more homes and jobs and routes to employment for people at all skill and education levels, while delivering on climate and ecological targets by investing in green jobs and city-centre housing and decarbonisation, he said.

Above all, the mayor said, he would continue to “get stuff done”.

He called on councillors to work with him by offering solutions to the challenges facing the city, rather than bringing “abstract negativity” or “opposition for opposition’s sake”.

“The people of Bristol…want solutions to the problems they face every day,” he said. “They want us to be a source of hope.

“The time I have as mayor is loaned to me by the city. It’s my job to invest it, not in fruitless distractions and false politics, but in the people and the initiatives that will actually make a difference for the city, our country and our world.”

The new leader of the Greens, Paula O’Rourke, set out the group’s plans for effective opposition following their disappointment at being excluded from the ruling cabinet despite being the joint largest group on the council alongside Labour following the elections.

Cllr O’Rourke said the Greens would hold the Labour administration to account, using its membership of scrutiny committees to influence policy and via a shadow cabinet mirroring then six-member Labour ruling group handpicked by the mayor, which has since grown to seven.



Bristol Green group leader Paula O'Rourke at the Bristol City Council annual general meeting on May 25
Bristol Green group leader Paula O’Rourke

They would push for a review of council governance and for “improved checks and balances on the power of the mayor”, she said.

But the Greens would “work for the city” and would not put “tribal politics” before the needs of the people of Bristol, Cllr O’Rourke promised.

Conservative leader Mark Weston said politics was by nature “gladiatorial” but his group would “try and be as respectful as we can” when debating the big issues.

“We won’t agree on all the solutions…but…we can try and work together,” he said.

Cllr Weston advised the mayor to “get the basics right” before expecting the public’s backing for major projects, and asked him not to “ignore” the suburbs. “There is more than just the centre [of Bristol],” he said. “Don’t forget us out there: there are many of us and we are legion.”

The Liberal Democrats, the smallest opposition group, made few peace-offerings. Instead, Jos Clark, the new leader of the group gave a harsh critique of the Labour administration’s past five years in office and promised the Lib Dems would keep a “close eye” on major projects to ensure taxpayers got “best value for money”.

“There is no question that we cannot afford to spend money unwisely or on any vanity projects,” she said. “Our citizens expect their money to be spent delivering services to them.

“Over the past five years, we have seen communities ignored and trampled on by the mayor’s office, determined to build a legacy.

“The Liberal Democrats will fight tooth and nail to be the voice of those communities.”

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