Q & A with George Ferguson, mayor of Bristol
July 28, 2015
Q: What does good local economic development look like?
A: We absolutely don’t believe that the only measure is GDP. We are encouraging people like Happy Cities to create a more meaningful measure that is as much about wellbeing as it is about the economy in traditional ways. I have broached the idea with the Core Cities group that we should try to develop a different type of measurement that is not just about the commercial.
Take the latest announcement about Sunday trading, for example. A narrow view would say the success of a city is all about commerce and would liberate Sunday trading. But I believe that is damaging to the soul of the city and it’s better have a day that is a bit different. Every decision takes that into account rather than just thinking about money.
Quality of life is one of Bristol’s USPs. It supports our economy by attracting business. I sometimes have to fight my own citizens to achieve that – some who don’t see beyond the bonnet of their car or their bank balance. Until you have brought it home to people with visible benefits they don’t get it and think you are being a hippy.
Q: What does being European Green Capital 2015 bring to the city?
A: We are halfway through now and have given out £2m of grants for local projects, have signed up 200 businesses to different ways of working and launched a big education programme. On an international level Bristol is much more recognised. I was with the president of France two weeks ago and with the Pope this week. As a small global city as we are co-hosting the cities pavilion at the Paris Climate Change summit where we will be showcasing 100 transformative actions with cites across the world. We are playing a role in opening other cities eyes to this whole agenda.
We recently published our quality of life survey and have seen a huge shift to active transport. We are by far the most successful cycling city of core cities: we have more cyclists than Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool put together.
‘I am unashamed about being as entrepreneurial
as we can… as the government cuts us off at the knees’
Q: How is the Green Capital programme reaching into poorer areas?
A: It’s tougher to reach into marginalized areas. We are intent on spreading the grants programme into more impoverished areas but it’s inevitable that the organisations delivering the grants are more central.
We have set up our own energy company – Bristol Energy – and this won’t be a minority sport. This will play a huge part in terms of the provision of energy across Bristol and beyond and hopefully we will tackle fuel poverty and make sure we give people a much better deal.
We are determined to reduce our carbon output and are also looking for other income sources as the government cuts us off at the knees. I am unashamed about being as entrepreneurial as we can. The company will be low carbon rather than carbon zero but, the bigger we get, the bigger the proportion of renewables. We have already built two mega wind turbines and are putting solar on own buildings and investing over £100m on insulation.
Q: How are devolution plans for the city region progressing?
A: We are at the first stage. We’ve now agreed on a strategic governance review and will move towards being a combined authority. We are not going back to being the county of Avon which is something people tend to fear. There is some resistance to going for metro mayor and I’m wasting my time saying it should be dependent on that so I don’t. It is a generally agreeable conversation about how we are moving towards devolution – particularly on transport and on strategic planning and skills.
Q: What does your emphasis on fun bring to the city?
A: I take every opportunity to enable people to open their streets and we are extending the Make Sundays Special programme into communities, with one taking place on Stapleton Road, which is a very culturally mixed community. I think it comes back to me saying it shouldn’t all be about commerce but about life and families. My driving principle is about making it a child friendly city. If you make a city that is friendly to children you make a city that is good for all. I have a major child in me.