Some MPs do New Year’s messages to their constituents. Instead of that, here’s my non-exhaustive list of the big issues facing Bristol in the coming year.
1. Election of a police commissioner for Avon & Somerset. I’ve made it clear in the past that I don’t support this, and I don’t know many people who do, but it’s happening. As yet I don’t think any candidates have declared.
2. Referendum on whether Bristol should have an elected mayor. I’m ambivalent on this. Discussions are still going on as to what powers the mayor would have. That, and the simple question of who is likely to be elected, will make a big difference as to whether it turns out to be a good or bad thing for Bristol.
3. An Integrated Transport Authority at last? I’ve campaigned for this since I was first elected in 2005, and in late 2011 there were encouraging signs it might be on the cards.
4. Bristol as the site for the new Green Investment Bank? We’re one of the frontrunners and have put together a good case, based on the city’s green credentials and financial services expertise. It would be a good thing for Bristol in itself, but also as a spur to making further progress on the environmental agenda.
5. Further pressure on primary school places. Our lobbying for extra funds paid off to an extent in 2011 but there will still be a shortfall of several thousand places within a few years unless more classrooms – or even schools – are built.
6. A tough time for young(ish) people. EMA has been abolished, tuition fees tripled and youth unemployment is around the 1 million mark. New changes to housing benefit rules introduced this month mean that anyone under the age of 35 will only be entitled to the rent for a single room in a shared house.
7. A continuation of the row about building on green spaces. 2011 saw some highy unpopular proposals begun floated by the ruling Lib Dems on the council, some u-turns, some prevarication, some genuine listening to public opinion, and some decisions being made on the basis of ‘can we or can’t we get away with this one?’ I’d like to see a reassessment of the use of brown space – eg old warehousing on industrial estates that has been empty for years – and empty propertis.
8. Moving forward with the Local Enterprise Zone at Temple Meads (which will focus on the creative, media and digital industries) and the Local Economic Partnership (LEP – a pale imitation of the Regional Development Agency scrapped by the Government, with no resources but, judging from the discussions I’ve had with them to date, a strong focus and desire to get things done). My view of the RDA was that it was far from perfect, but was needed. Let’s see if the LEP manages to
deliver for Bristol.
9. Bus fares to rise, bus services to be cut, train fares to rise, more overcrowding despite some new carriages… See my points above re the ITA and elected mayor. Can either of these take control of the buses in the way they’ve done it in London? FGW is exercising the break clause in its contact, so we will see a renegotiation of the franchise. What should we be looking for from those who express an interest in tendering?
10. Occupy Bristol may well be forced to move on in the next few weeks or months, as the cathedral is now looking at taking legal action to shift them. Last year Bristol saw the Stokes Croft riot in April and copycat disturbances in Bristol later in the year after trouble in London, Manchester and elsewhere. There were also demonstrations, eg the Hardest Hit rally against cuts to support for people with disabilities, and the march in support of public sector workers striking over their pensions. I think 2012 will see the increased politicisation of many people who are feeling first-hand the impact of the savage cuts being imposed by Cameron, Osborne and co, and being implemented by their Lib Dem lackeys in local government. I hope 2012 is a year of peaceful but powerful protest, and that politicians from all parties are prepared to listen.