After four years of the Liberal Democrats in Coalition Government, there are many positive things to see in Bristol. The economy is stronger, schools have extra resources for children from poorer backgrounds and various initiatives are underway to build a more sustainable future. In this blog I’ll consider the economy.
The Bristol city region (the city council area plus South Gloucestershire) has long been the most prosperous city in the country after London and Edinburgh. But the recsession and credit crunch from 2007 -2009 still hit the city hard. Many housing schemes with planning permission froze with builders and apprentices being laid off. By May 2010 unemployment had climbed to 14,023 with both Bristol West and Bristol South constituencies reaching a rate of 5%, below the national average but still devastating for the individuals out of work.
Now four years later, the city economy is growing again. The government’s investment in apprentices has led to thousands of new opportunities for young people. I have met many of them on visits to Airbus, Rolls Royce and numerous construction sites. It’s the latter that is most pleasing as construction shrank the most in Labour’s recession years.
House building is gathering pace, good for local jobs but also essential to expand the housing stock to give more people homes and to stem spiralling prices and rents. A good example is the Wapping Wharf development near the MShed city museum. This site was frozen, with the developer finding it hard to raise the money needed to get site works underway. I told them about the government’s Get Britain Building fund and they were eventually loaned about £12million. The site is a great example of mixed tenure, with homes for sale, private rent and affordable rent. Over the next year or so the site will be transformed with over 600 new homes.
The government is also backing Bristol with the new Local Enterprise Partnership, focused on the city region economy of Bristol and Bath. In Bristol West we have the Enterprise Zone, centered on Temple Meads. The zone is becoming the focal point for Bristol’s world renowned creative and digital media industry. It will also become home to the long awaited Bristol Arena, which the government is helping on its way with a £10million new bridge over the Avon, with construction starting this month.
The government has also invested in Bristol’s green and sustainable economy. The Green Deal house retrofitting scheme was piloted in Bristol. Private rental sector properties are being made more energy efficient in Easton and Horfield. Last month Danny Alexander came to to Bristol to announce £7million government support that I secured for Bristol Green Capital 2015.
Like the rest of Britain, the Bristol economy has returned to strong growth. Unemployment has been falling for over a year and is now 11,015 – still too many but a lot better than four years ago. As I’m writing this the day before the local and European Parliament elections it’s worth pointing out that Bristol’s economy has always depended on trade with Europe. Our international businesses, particularly in aviation, benefit from being in the world’s largest single market. The Liberal Democrats are the only mainstream party to have the guts to argue the case for Britain’s membership of the EU. It’s in Bristol’s interests that we stay in.