The May local elections saw a raft of changes at the city council. The ruling Liberal Democrats lost their majority, Labour and the Conservatives appointed new – yet familiar – party leaders and for the first time The Green Party had more than one councillor. This week Sam Rkaina talks to all four party leaders about their ambitions for their group and the city. Today it’s Conservative Peter Abraham.
A bigger Bristol that absorbs Kingswood, Keynsham and even Portishead – that’s Conservative leader Peter Abraham’s vision of the future.
Mr Abraham wants the city to expand its boundaries to absorb parts of the three surrounding local authorities
This would help create jobs, boost the economy and allow Bristol to fulfil its potential.
He said: “I would start the campaign to say to the government – if you want a mayor and if you want that mayor to work you’ve got to come half way and that means extending Bristol’s boundaries.
“Bristol used to be just here (the city centre) if it had stopped there it would be a village.
“I would start lobbying for extending the boundaries. I could use that emotive term Greater Bristol that upsets everyone.
“To move to our natural boundaries means the Cribbs Causeway corridor, Kingswood, Keynsham. I wouldn’t tie up with Bath or Weston-super-Mare as they have their own identities. One of the problems with Avon was that it went too far. But I could see Portishead.”
Mr Abraham wants Bristol to be ambitious but feels the council often works against the city’s best interests rather than for them.
He said: “I think my job as leader of the Conservative group is to get this council as a credible council.
“Bristol is a great place to work and live and even in times of great economic difficulties we are successful.
“But Bristol is successful in spite of the city council not because of it.
“I also want to be realistic. This is a city that seems to promise and not deliver.
“I think that’s the perception. I think we tell people we’re going to do things before realising we can’t do them.
“How long have politicians been promising an arena? Then we had the Knowle West regeneration, with pages of Anthony Negus saying no one would be interested in doing it any other way.
“Then within three months it’s all changed. Why don’t we get it right?
“What I want is a new order in this city.”
The Conservative Party was pushed into third place at the 2010 elections and remained in that position in May.
But with the coalition government imposing four years of cuts on local authorities, Mr Abraham has a clear view of what the council should be doing differently.
He said: “I’ve got to get us in a position in two years time when it is credible to vote Conservative and we will bring about a new order – we’re working on that at the moment.
“If we were in that position of power – either through a council or a Conservative mayor – we would want to see clearly what were the mandatory jobs, the things we should be doing.
“Then we would look at a list of what else we’re doing and ask if we should be doing them.
“Some are going to be very controversial but if there is no more money something has to go.
“This tinkering about we’re doing – five people go here or six people there – you’ve got to take whole layers out.”
Education is one area that needs a drastic rethink in the light of the £70 million of savings Bristol has to make by 2015, according to the Tories.
Mr Abraham said: “We have to face the fact that the local authority’s role in running schools in Bristol is coming to an end.
“My view is ‘thank God for that’, it’s not been a good thing. Different groups have tried.
“Cut out the middle man. I would like to see a small, central core that maintained the performance of our schools. More like Her Majesty’s inspectors rather than Ofsted.
“The more bureaucrats you have in College Green the more that slows down our heads and deputies.”
Like many in this city, transport is one Mr Abraham’s bugbears.
One of the reasons for expanding Bristol’s boundaries would be to have better cross boundary co-ordination of bus services that start in one authority and end in another.
He said: “The bendy bus is almost a joke. We need a proper system that uses rail more and that the public can afford to get on. Families say to me they can’t afford it.
“Any money saved from these silly traffic schemes I’d put reducing the fares. Let’s get people on the buses, then when the buses are full we’ll worry about how to get more.
“The messages we’re getting are that we never see anybody on the buses, so why do we want longer buses?”
Mr Abraham wants the council to work more closely with MPs of all persuasions, and remove some of the “petty party politics” that goes on between councillors.
Nevertheless he’s still critical of the ruling Lib Dems and their Labour predecessors.
Mr Abraham said: “I think anybody looking in would say the Labour party have failed year after year, by their own test.
“I think they’ve taken a step back. Peter Hammond is left wing, the man that wouldn’t run the city a few years ago. He gave it up. I wonder where the credibility is.
“This is a wonderful city with so much to offer but something is holding it back. I have a feeling it is a lack of leadership at College Green.
“I don’t think we have a person who really understands the city.
“We need vision. We need someone who’s really courageous to take on and stay with the decisions and not change them the minute a bit of flak comes their way.”