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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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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Change to build community trust

This post first appeared on the TCPA’s blog series about trust in the planning process. Thanks so much to them for asking me to write something.

Public trust is a powerful concept, that’s beset with fuzziness and contradiction.

We instinctively know if we trust a person, organisation or process, but can’t always clearly explain why.

Leaders universally agree that trust matters, yet don’t pay enough attention to maintaining it. Like a football referee, many don’t fully appreciate its importance until something goes wrong.

I’m sure that most planning and place-making professionals appreciate how volatile trust can be. If you’re in any doubt, here’s a reality check: the sector faces a crisis of confidence amongst the people upon whom its legitimacy depends.

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#PlaceIndex webinar catch up: engaging communities after the pandemic

Industry leaders discussed our inaugural Place Index report at a webinar organised by Social colleagues today (14 May 2021).

It was an enjoyable and fascinating discussion chaired by political journalist Geri Scott, which covered key issues raised in our recently published report. I was on the panel discussing topics including ‘levelling up’, engaging young people about the future of their areas and building trust in the development process.

My heartfelt thanks go to colleagues for organising the session and for working on the report over recent months. It’s been seen by loads of people, been well picked up in the media and was great to work on. I hope those reading it find it useful.

Thanks also to TCPA’s Fiona Howie, MOBIE’s Mark Southgate and Ahead Partnership’s Stephanie Burras CBE for joining the panel today. We had some great feedback and want to do something like this again soon. If you attended and asked questions, thank you too. I hope to see you in person at a future event before too long.

You can catch up on the webinar below. It lasts for about an hour.

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