Tess Green, the Green Councillor for Southville, urged caution in a speech at City Hall today, regarding a deal which would lock Bristol in an economic agreement for over twenty years.
Her speech affirmed the Green party’s position that continuous economic growth is both unsustainable and could be detrimental to the environment, and stressed the need for zero-carbon economic growth which would be driven by renewable, rather than finite, energy sources.
The City Deal will combine the growth in business rates made in five Enterprise Areas and one Enterprise Zone, all located across the four unitary authorities which make up the West of England: Bristol, South Gloucestershire, Bath and North East Somerset (BANES) and North Somerset.
This money will be placed in an Economic Development Fund, which will in turn be used to fund investment in the four areas.
The pooled growth in business rates, alongside other funding sources such as transportation schemes and the Revolving Infrastructure Fund (RIF), will amount to approximately £1bn of investment into the partnership area.
However, the deal will bind the four unitary authorities for twenty five years.
Also, as borrowing will be predicated on future growth, the City Deal comes with an inherent risk that parties may borrow more money from the Economic Development Fund than they are able to pay back.
The City Deal was passed by a vast majority of councillors within the chamber. The Green Party were the only party to vote against the deal.
In her speech, delivered during a full council meeting, Councillor Green highlighted the lack of time councillors were given to understand and deliberate the City Deal, and stressed the large period of time Bristol would be bound to other unitary authorities.
“We have had very little time to properly consider the implications, which if we proceed will tie us to our LEP partners economically for twenty-five years… It is irresponsible to give the go-ahead to something we don’t fully understand,” she said.
For example, the Liberal Democrat councillor for Bishopston David Willingham said that it was “absolutely not acceptable” that councillors were only given two appendices of the paper proposal for the City Deal one day before the full council meeting, and demanded that members of the executive be held to account.
The City Deal strikes an agreement between three main parties: the Government, the four West of England unitary authorities, and the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).
Whilst the former two parties are fully elected by the public, the Local Enterprise Partnership is only partially elected, comprising of not only the Mayor of Bristol George Ferguson and the leaders of the other three unitary authorities, but also four members from major businesses within the area, as well as one academic.
This mixture of elected and non-elected parties could lead to commercial interests dictating where the money collected in the Economic Development Fund may be invested.
There are still no clear guidelines as to how much money each unitary authority will receive from the Economic Development Fund, and which areas of the authorities will receive investment once funds have been allotted.
For more information on the City Deal, speak to your local councillor or visit the Bristol City Council website at www.bristol.gov.uk.