Prosperity is about much more than GDP
The first face to face hustings of the campaign took place on 22nd March in KPMG’s swanky new office block on Queen Square, Bristol. Organised jointly by the Centre for Cities, a left-leaning think tank, and Businesswest, the local Chamber of Commerce, it focussed on housing, transport and economic investment. Questions from the floor also included apprenticeships, bus services and whether candidates would support increasing business rates.
It was a very courteous opening exchange with lots of agreement between the candidates; after all, it is easy to all say that the region needs more housing! Tim Bowles (Conservatives) surprised many by saying he was in favour of greater regulation of bus companies. It was the first time out for new Independent candidate John Savage, who demonstrated his experience from the private sector with unashamedly business orientated answers as the solution to society’s ills. Lesley Mansell (Labour) stuck to solid socialist principles, whilst Stephen Williams compared running the West of England Authority to being in coalition government!
Of course, we would say this wouldn’t we, but it was clear that Green Party’s Darren Hall was the most passionate about challenging the status quo, asking the audience to think about the kind of place in which they would like to live and work in 20 years time. His experience in building social housing showed through, along with a commitment to social enterprise as one of the best ways to bridge the gap between government cuts and the profit motive of private companies.
There is much more to come, and perhaps future hustings will enable candidates to get beyond the generic election rhetoric and dig into some of the detail of how they plan to lead the region’s devolution agenda.
For the record, here are Darren’s opening and closing statements:
Opening Statement – 2 minutes
We are lucky enough to live and work in one of the most amazing places in Europe.
Indeed, business leaders will often say that they can hire & retain the best staff in the UK outside of London.
The reason? Quality of Life
This quality of life is not defined purely by wages, but by a really great work-life balance. Despite what many think, the Green Party isn’t anti-business. The best way to help people help themselves is through meaningful work that pays a living wage. And tax paid by employees and businesses helps pay for civil society to function.
It is the long term viability of our region’s economy in which I am most interested. As I’m fairly sure you would agree, if we fail to properly balance profit with people & planet, we are setting ourselves up to fail.
We have the opportunity to lead the world in the next generation of smart urban living. This is a much broader concept than just the internet of things or driverless cars. It is about the systems thinking that enables a city and its surrounding areas to function properly.
This means taking a place based approach, rather than the short term silo thinking that sees local politicians fighting over boundaries that are meaningless to anyone outside of the political bubble.
It means addressing the housing crisis within a generation, not by building more ‘des res’ on the green belt, but by building sustainable communities and rolling out a renters charter across the region.
It means confronting our congestion and air quality problems not by building more roads, but by providing an effective integrated public transport system.
It means accepting that we cannot isolate ourselves from global issues. Climate change and political destabilisation, biodiversity loss and soil degradation must be threaded into and through all our of public and private sector plans.
I believe that as Mayor of the West of England Combined Authority I can lead that place based systems thinking.
Closing Statement – 1 minute
I would like to end by asking everyone here to think about what kind of world they would like to be living in 20 years time.
If we are going to be living in a prosperous society, where more people are able to share in our success, where children grow up breathing clean air, where families can enjoy high quality green spaces together, where decent homes with affordable fuel bills are the norm for everyone, then we have to act now.
The saying goes that if you ask the same people the same question, you’ll get the same answer. The Green Party are often seen as the outsiders, but I think if you are prepared to vote for a positive change, that in 20 years time, people will be saying, do know what The Green Party were right.
Tackling climate change was essential. We’re glad we saved the oceans & nature. We do need to drive less. Prosperity is about much more than GDP. We are all better off because of it. We are better off because we embraced the opportunity to think differently.