Marvin Rees launched Labour’s campaign for a Labour Mayor at his old primary school in Bristol on St Valentine’s day. It pressed a lot of the right Labour buttons: Bristol was a divided, unequal city, many of its citizens left behind, their fate obscured by Bristol’s trendy status. He would make housing a priority, set up a public company to lead a building programme. Heartfelt, heart-warming and utterly conventional, a speech that might have been made anywhere, any time. Here is what he didn’t say.
‘Whoever is elected Mayor will have to make further cuts in the public services that Bristol’s poorest citizens rely on, the present Conservative government will see to that. If you elect me I will make the fairest budget I can in the circumstances and lead the fight on behalf of the city against government-imposed austerity.
In the 5 years ending in 2015 government grant to local authorities fell by almost 39%, and despite some additional local revenue, spending per person across all authorities was down by more than 23%. Next year government funding will be cut by another £1.25 billion. Over the next five years government grant will be withdrawn altogether, throwing local authorities onto their own resources with only ineffective provision to rectify the inequalities between them.
So what can you expect from me? I will lead the protest against the effects of government-imposed austerity on the city. I will ask you to support me in that and to work with me in allocating the resource we’ve got as best we can. And I will ask you to look, with me, at the longer term. We need to reform local authority finance in two ways. First to replace Council Tax with a tax on land values that can raise more money and do it more fairly. Second, we need a proper equalization mechanism where richer areas with the most valuable land and resources contribute more to reduce inequality between areas.
My campaign to change the way local government works will begin today, on the first day of my campaign to be elected Mayor’.
That would have been a speech worth turning out for.