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Mayoral Manifesto 2016 - Austerity & Economics

Bristol is a great city and it can be so much better!

The Green Mayor and Bristol’s Green Party Council candidates wish to see Bristol continue as the leading Green city in the UK with a clear vision of a more sustainable, better future. Our particular focus in 2016 is on Clean and Affordable Energy, A Decent Home for Everyone, 21st Century Education and Skills and Sustainable Transport and Clean Air.

Tony Dyer - Green Party candidate for mayor

Why We Are Where We Are

One of the great tragedies of recent years is how quickly a global financial crash caused by irresponsible debt-fuelled speculation in the financial sector was transformed in the public mind into a crisis caused by UK government “over-spending” on “hand-outs” to “shirkers”, immigrants and “green crap”.

An ideology dominated by the core idea that  “the market knows best” led to an environment of little or no effective regulation, particularly in the financial sector – as a result banks faced few financial or legal penalties for unsustainable and potentially self-destructive speculation in unrestricted markets. A housing and consumer boom largely based on almost unlimited cheap debt seemed to reinforce the idea that the unregulated market knew best.

When the whole edifice came crashing down, triggered by the selling of subsidised mortgages to those who simply could not afford to buy a house at market rates, the same banks who had trumpeted the power of the market and their infallibility lined up to receive bailouts from the taxpayer, bailouts eagerly offered by the same politicians who had previously insisted that governments should not interfere in the finance industry.

In the UK, this “bail-out” saw the massive transfer of private sector debt created by major financial institutions to the public sector. resulting in the UK's public sector debt leaping from 44% of GDP in 2007 to 148% of GDP in 2008.  In absolute amounts, UK debt grew from £670bn in 2007 to £2.2 trillion in 2008 as a direct result of the crash.

Meanwhile the credit crunch led to a reduction in bank lending to the wider economy, leading to a slump in economic output, leading to a massive drop in tax receipts, leading to a corresponding increase in the UK's public spending deficit.  Having been bailed out by the public sector, banks now pointed at the public sector's huge debts and large spending deficit as a sign of how inefficient the public sector was. Politicians, abetted by a majority of mainstream media commentators, quickly “forgot” the underlying cause of this debt accumulation in the public sector and the real reason for the growth in the deficit.

Buoyed by this newly “informed” public opinion, the “independent” Bank of England, instead of investing directly in to the economy to stimulate it, offered further funding to banks in the form of “Quantitative Easing” - but failed to set any conditions that linked this to increased levels of lending to the real economy.  As a result, the banks largely used this “free money” to shore up their balance sheets with very little making its way into the wider economy.

Meanwhile the Coalition government cut back on all forms of public spending, effectively taking money out of the pockets of those most likely to spend it directly in to the economy thus undermining the “multiplier effect” (whereby money spent into the economy is respent back into the economy in a virtuous circle).

Since 2010, the result of George Osborne's economic mismanagement of the economy has led to the slowest recovery from a recession in over 200 years, levels of inequality and relative poverty not seen since the Great Depression, and a Chancellor of the Exchequer who despite being publicly committed to cutting public debt has instead created more public debt than every other post-war chancellor combined.

How does this impact on Bristol, and what are the challenges facing a Green Mayor?

The impact of the rewriting of history outlined above has led to what can only be described as an assault on public sector finances, with local government finances bearing some of the worst cuts of all.

As a result Bristol City Council has seen its core grant of funding from central government reduced from £180m to £80m this year and this will be reduced to less than £18m by 2019/20. This is a reduction of over 90%.

Meanwhile cuts in council tax support, and the “bedroom tax” coupled with severely reduced subsidies for affordable housing and ongoing increase in private rents have led to a surge in homelessness placing considerable financial pressures on the council's duty to rehouse those in danger of being made homeless.  The impact of the benefit cap and the introduction of Universal Credit will lead to further pressures of some £6m next year alone.  Public health grant funding will be cut by some £2m/yr, childrens' services £1.5m/yr and adult social care, despite the Green's winning of additional funding through a ring-fenced council tax rise, will still have a funding gap of some £1.5m next year, whilst cuts to funding for people with disabilities mean that many people with disabilities continue to face severe restrictions on their ability to enjoy a reasonable quality of life.

As a result, services provided by the council across several key areas are struggling to cope; this often means that third party provision is having to step in to fill the gaps left by a reduction in delivery service.

In short, whilst the city aspires towards becoming a resilient city, the council itself increasingly lacks the resources to deliver good quality and as a result many of the most vulnerable of our fellow Bristolians are being forced to pay the price for the irresponsible behaviour of those who created the problem in the first place.

To meet the challenges imposed on the city council's expenses by the current political framework, a Green Mayor will:

Safeguard existing budgets by seeking to maximise potential sources of revenue

For example, the Green group of councillors proposed an amendment to the council's budget to raise £3.5m of additional funding next year that will be ringfenced for Adult Social Care. This will deliver some £14.5m of additional funding over the next four years.  In addition, the Green Mayoral candidate and councillors have lobbied the Mayor to ring-fence another £1.8m next year, almost £7m over the next four years, to support independent living for people with disabilities.

Encourage and invest in partnership working

A Green Mayor will work beyond the council itself, in partnership with the voluntary sector, community organisations and representatives, businesses and entrepreneurs, and others, to deliver services and products in the best social, economic and environmental interests of the city and its citizens.  For example, a Bristol Housing Company integrating the best of the public and private sector, whilst also providing opportunities for innovative approaches to housing delivery, can have a significant positive impact on Bristol's ability to deliver the housing required for the city's sustainable future.

Working cross-boundary

A Green Mayor will also work co-operatively cross-boundary with our neighbouring local authorities, the core cities, and other local and regional authorities both in the UK and in Europe.  A Green Mayor will use these collaborative partnerships to seek out best practice elsewhere with a view to implementing the very best of them in Bristol. For example, Bristol currently spends some £3-4m on emergency accommodation for the homeless. Neighbouring South Gloucestershire Council spends another £1m with both local authorities generally using the same providers of emergency accommodation – cross-boundary working offers opportunities to ensure more effective use of these resources.

Working with the devolution agenda

Proposals for devolving power to city regions are being brought forward by central government.  There are both threats and opportunities - threats to democratic scrutiny of decision-making and opportunities to retain locally a greater proportion of the taxes raised within the local area.   There are also concerns that the devolved powers will often consist of responsibility for making cuts with limited powers to increase revenue spending.  However, there is the potential to release additional funding locally via the implementation of Payment By Results.  For example, it has been shown that every £1 invested in homelessness prevention will result in £2 of savings in homelessness provision.  In 2011, it was calculated that the £26m spent supporting homeless people in Bristol resulted in some £55m worth of savings in areas such as health, crime, criminal justice and housing.

A Green Mayor will continue to argue against the current government's austerity agenda, and will seek to alleviate to the greatest extent possible under current legislation the impacts of cuts to public services.  Given the continued reduction of funding available from central government, a Green Mayor will look to develop an “Enterprising Council”. An Enterprising Council will develop council/business partnerships working for the common good, and will seek to take advantage of opportunities for sustainable income generation including the creation of council-aimed and wholly or majority owned businesses.

An Enterprising Council led by a Green Mayor working with a progressive cabinet will be open to innovative ideas and initiatives, developing new urban services and infrastructure to deliver a sustainable Bristol fit for the future.

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