Mayor or committees won’t solve Bristol’s collaboration challenge alone

City of Hope Bristol

This post first appeared on Bristol 24/7’s Your Say section on 19 April. Thanks to them for their excellent coverage of all perspectives of the city’s mayoral referendum.

I’ve been fortunate to see devolution take shape in cities across England over the last 20 years.

That experience leads me to believe that local people, not Westminster, should have the tools to lead this change. Although Marvin Rees last year received a mandate to serve as mayor until 2024, Bristol has further to go before seeing the full benefits of devolution.

The referendum around whether the council is best led by a mayor or committee model of governance should sit within this context.

Context matters here. Although I’ve clocked hundreds of posts across Twitter and news feeds, this isn’t easy to see amidst claim and counterclaim.

Top posts online (by engagement) mentioning the referendum between 13 March and 16 April. 

I don’t have a vote in the referendum, but I am interested in its outcome as someone who works here and employs people living in the city. My thoughts come from that perspective, as someone who’s worked with the council and the offices of both elected mayors since 2010.

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No logo. Why giving creative time away won’t work

No

Heated responses to the West of England Combined Authority’s call for ideas for its London Underground-style regional transport brand were timely for me.

They came as I set out priorities for the year ahead. Who do we want to work with? How can we build on last year’s success? What can we stop spending time on to focus more on what we need to do?

Then WECA’s call to residents to submit brand ideas for the region’s public transport network drew a sharp response. It also highlighted issues that comms professionals grapple with every day.

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My three most read blogs of 2021

Three

My recent blog-writing efforts reflect my tired plod towards the end the year. I’ve been busier than ever in 2021 and have not written and published a full blog on this website for a couple of months. I’ve started a few, but not finished them all. Others were overtaken by events. But those I have written have performed better than they did last year.

It’s a fitting metaphor for a stop-start year: grinding, but ultimately good.

Despite the grind, there’s much to take pride from what we achieved this year. We continued to grow as a team and returned to an office in Bristol (briefly). We were delighted to see our client Gravity’s Local Development Order adopted by Sedgemoor District Council after supporting them for more than a year. And I was honoured to collect our first award, when we were named consultant of the year in South West Business Insider’s Residential Property Awards.

With all that’s happened, I’m glad to have found time to blog about anything. It’s an added bonus that people took time to read them. Massive thanks if you were one of those people.

Here are the three posts that had the most views in 2021.

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Five points on place from #Budget21 and #SpendingReview

Chancellor's red box

Setting out a path to growth, or repairing the damage caused by austerity?

Views on Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s budget and spending review statements on 27 October are likely to be coloured by personal and political perspectives.

From the perspective of a communicator and director of a small business based outside London, the statement felt like a pitch from a man in control of the narrative. This is a prized asset for government set pieces. And it’s why key measures – around Net Zero, infrastructure, transport and skills – are so heavily trailed in advance.

These measures coalesce under a plan for growth, building on the Prime Minister’s claims that the country must move towards a model of higher wages and productivity. With growth anticipated to reach 6.5% next year, there is cause for optimism from this most spendthrift and statist of small-state Conservative chancellors.

Even if there were few surprises, there remains plenty to make sense of. How many of the commitments are new money? How can we access the funding? Do we know yet what ‘levelling up’ looks like? The third question is a touch optimistic, I know. People will make up their own minds on that one.

For those interested in place-making and development, here are some of the snippets of interest we took from the announcement.

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Read the room: reasons to support Druidstone’s membership move

Manufactured storm clouds have gathered above Pembrokehire’s clifftops, at a place I know well.

They’re created by media interest in The Druidstone hotel’s membership scheme for non-guests who want an occasional drink in its popular bar. The Guardian sparked the interest on Friday, after a freelancer discovered the story whilst staying locally.

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Collaboration, not culture wars, will help us return to the office

Work at home (if you can). Get back to work (sorry, the office). Forget that, work at home please. Go back, gradually and carefully. Read the guidance. Businesses must work out what’s best. It’s on you. Fingers crossed!

These phrases illustrate the chaos surrounding England’s official office working guidance during the pandemic. I exaggerate in places. But each statement reflects a government position at a certain moment. Sometimes, ministers even took different positions on the same day.

Navigating this is tricky, especially if you’re not expert in workplace design, occupational health or HR. I’m more used to writing about 600-acre spaces than 600 sq ft ones, and I struggle to visualise how a shell will look when kitted out and occupied. “How many desks can you get in here again?” was a stock phrase used during recent forays into Bristol to check potential new office space.

What knowledge I have is shaped by conversations with helpful agents and dozens of viewings over recent years. Much of this was during COVID, which detonated drastic changes to everyone’s living and working patterns. Once, I nearly agreed a three-year lease on office space before government guidance shifted (again) to work from home. Not signing saved us from paying for a space we couldn’t use.

The process feels fraught with uncertainty and confusion. I know I’m not alone in struggling to find something that works for us post-COVID, as the environment around us remains in flux.

From this muddled standpoint, I’ve watched with interest as people on all sides of the vexed office debate state their case with certainty. As I write from Scotland (that’s flexible location working for you), respective positions around this debate appear to have hardened. Whether it’s work from home or return to the office, it’s taken a binary either/or context.

This is unhelpful when many organisations are looking at somewhere between those points (or hybrid, to use the jargon).

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