* To fisk: A point-by-point refutation of a blog entry or (especially) news story. A really stylish fisking is witty, logical, sarcastic and ruthlessly factual; flaming or handwaving is considered poor form. Named after Robert Fisk, a British journalist who was a frequent (and deserving) early target of such treatment
Bristol Blogger commenter Archie asked a few days back if we’d be playing “buzz word bingo” with the ‘State of the City debate’. Tempting but it’s a bit too late for that. Instead The Blogger’s gonna take a good look at the document (pdf) Helen Holland presented to the council last Tuesday for discussion on her plans for the future. Or “the Cabinet’s initial thinking about emerging priorities for the council in working towards delivering the city’s future and contributing to the delivery of the revised Bristol Partnership Sustainable Community Strategy” as she so succinctly puts it.
Holland’s words are in black and The Blogger’s are the red italics.
The report sets out the Cabinet’s initial thinking about emerging priorities for the council in working towards delivering the city’s future and contributing to the delivery of the revised Bristol Partnership Sustainable Community Strategy. Council is asked to discuss these issues in its “state of the city debate” in order that members views can be taken into account in work on the four key priorities for the authority over the coming three years.
Wow, here’s a bit of a whammy to begin with. It now seems that our elected representatives’ function is to contribute ideas to an unelected and unaccountable quango – the Bristol Partnership – and their Sustainable Community Strategy, which appears to be the key document about the future direction of the city these days.
So who put this unelected quango in charge of deciding our future and when? Surely the point of democracy is that elected representatives – who are at least vaguely accountable to us – decide what happens and unelected people deliver it? When was this all turned upside down and why? And why are we forking out well over £1m a year for an expensive elected advisory panel with a taste for pompous pageantry that’s given even its limited powers away?
The Bristol Partnership, in case you’re wondering, has been made up of a self-selecting group of voluntary sector diversity fanatics, some top cops, a couple of councillors, some GOSW regeneration wonks and our dodgy old mate from Business West, SWRDA board member John Savage – who, as usual, gets to wield power and influence over the city without having to go to the bother of getting elected.
It makes you wonder why Holland’s bothering with this ‘state of the city’ nonsense at all if the decisions are being made elsewhere. And shouldn’t the public have been told to make their comments to the decision-making quango rather than a bunch of advisory councillors?
1. The Cabinet has had initial discussions about the emerging priorities for inclusion in the revised Corporate Plan 2008-11. These will be formally considered by Cabinet in March 2008 for referral to Full Council in April 2008. These are summarised as:
- Our City: prosperous and ambitious
- Driving change – making a difference
- Our City: safer and healthier
- Our neighbourhoods
James Barlow has already pointed out that these priorities are “grammatically absurd”. Indeed. First New Labour and Blair gave us the verbless promise – “forward not back”. Then came Brown with the politics of the vague verb – “change”, “hope”. Now we have the city of the feel good adjectives – “prosperous”, “ambitious”, “safer”, “healthier”.
Top blogger Fat Man on a Keyboard wrote last week about philosopher Jamie Whyte. Fat Man wrote: “One of his best lines is that you know that a political statement is meaningless when it would be impossible for a sane person to disagree with it: “this country needs hope” – “no it doesn’t, it needs despair”; “we want a better health service” – “rubbish! I want a worse one.” You get the idea.”
Do any of us not want a prosperous, ambitious, safer and healthier city then?
2. The Council role is increasingly being described as that of ‘community leader’ [As opposed to the governing body of the city presumably]. It is my and the Cabinet’s hope that by the time Full Council is asked to agree the Corporate Plan 2008-11 in April 2008, we will have been able to create a Council consensus about the priorities we should focus on for the next three years [This is really simple. The priorities are transport, education and crime. How many times do we have to fucking tell you? Can’t you just get on with doing something about them?]. The strength of a democratic organisation [which the Bristol Partnership now taking the decisions isn’t] is that there may be different views about how best to deliver each of these priorities. That is wholly acceptable [Because regardless of what you think or anyone says we’re gonna impose – through a confusing network of unelected and unaccountable quangos – a congestion charge, a ring road in south Bristol, more cheapo CPSOs and thousands of new houses built on the green belt among many other things you don’t really need to know about]. The purpose of this debate today at Full Council is to start the process of building consensus, so that we, as a Council, can fully take up our community leadership of the city for the future [While all the real decisions are made by our good old Merchant Venturer friend John Savage through his unelected, unaccountable quangos]. I look forward to the debate and your contributions [Even though they will be largely ignored by the people who really take the decisions ’round here].
Why are we reviewing the Corporate Plan now?
3. This is for a number of reasons [Although you’re only going to give us one really vague reason aren’t you?]. Most importantly, the city is changing [Really? care to tell us how?]: as demonstrated in the member briefings [not supplied to the public] prior to this meeting of Full Council and in the attached evidence base. We need to ensure that the Council is well placed to lead the city into the future and respond to the changes that are happening [Yes but what are these fucking changes?].
4. At the same time, we need to face up to some of the challenges we face as an organisation [What like the fact you’re a failing talking shop with no power that costs millions a year and is presided over by a man in a red dress]. By reviewing the Corporate Plan at the same time as the review of the Bristol Partnership’s Sustainable Community Strategy (please see Appendix 1 to this report) we can ensure that we are influencing that strategy [see they’re allowed to “influence” Savage’s plans not make their own] and that there is good alignment [can alignment be good?] between the longer term vision [courtesy of Savage and his mates] for the city and the actions we are going to take in the next three years [Which we are deliberately avoiding telling you anything about here]. This will place us in a stronger position in the negotiations we are now entering into for the new Local Area Agreement (LAA) [No. I don’t know what this is either. But it sounds like yet another strategy]. One of the criticisms of the Round 3 LAA [Blimey we’re on the fourth? What happened to the other three? However did we miss them?] was that the national agenda over dominated the choice of targets. We are determined this time that the LAA will better reflect our priorities and that it will be what it is meant to be: a delivery plan for the Sustainable Community Strategy [Oh I get it now. It is, naturally, the strategy for delivering the strategy. Excellent. Why have one strategy when you can have two? In fact if you include the Corporate Plan 2008 – 2011 that’s already been mentioned as well that’s three strategies (and we’re only on page 2). Brilliant. It’s all coming together now isn’t it?]
5. I now turn to each of the four priorities and give some greater detail of what we want to focus on in the next three years:
Our City: prosperous and ambitious
We propose four major focuses for our work:
Bristol a regional capital:
- With the Bristol Partnership [Them again!], our vision for the Bristol economy is to be the dynamic heart of a City Region that is at or near the top of UK and European premier leagues for both economic performance and quality of life [Aspiration is a fine thing but without some acknowledgement of where Bristol actually is, which is struggling (apologies for continuing with this crap football comparison) in a regional league against Exeter and Plymouth this sounds more like delusion]
- ensure that development within the city is sustainable [The biggest buzz word of ’em all. It always crops in these kinds of things and they never tell you what they mean. What’s Holland on about? Financial sustainability? Environmental sustainability? Economic sustainability? Sustainable development? Sustainable population? As it stands it’s completely meaningless] so that future generations can enjoy the benefits that growth will bring [Oh good, it’s our old friend economic growth and the first (and I think you’ll find only) clear policy position in this whole thing. But how does economic growth fit in with the sustainable city we’ve just been promised? Judging by intellectual capacity so far on display here it’s unlikely Holland’s gonna be telling us that’s for sure]
Sharing our prosperity
- ensure everyone shares in the prosperity of our ambitious and growing city by creating better places to live, more affordable homes, skills for better jobs and quality public transport [Fine words. But what’s the mechanism for achieving all this? Traditionally the Labour Party redistributes wealth. No sign of that here. But since Holland’s already mentioned economic growth enthusiastically it looks like it’s Thatcherite ‘trickle down’ for us then]
- improve services, targeting the needs of the most disadvantaged and securing equal access by tackling the barriers of prejudice and discrimination [Excellent. Another vague and nice sounding aspiration with no indication of how it might be achieved or what it might cost.]
- improve air quality [This may well be code for “introduce a congestion charge”]
- maximise waste diversion from landfill and securing sustainable, long term solutions for waste treatment [This may well be code for “purchase a fucking great big incinerator under PFI and put it in Avonmouth”]
Driving change – making a difference
This priority focuses on areas of service where we need to make the greatest step change [Anyone know what the difference is between “step change” and that good old-fashioned term “change”?]
- ensure all young people have the best chance in life [Has anyone ever in the course of human history been against this? see Jamie Whyte above]
- ensure that older people and disabled adults are empowered [note ’empowered’ not ‘funded’] to live independent lives [in other words don’t come to us for help when you’re old, even if you have paid monumentally high levels of tax all your lives for just this purpose]
- make significant changes to the way we do things [any chance of a hint as to what these changes might actually be? Or should we just assume this is reference to privatising public services?] to ensure services are more effective, responsive, flexible and easier to access so that everyone gets real value for money from public services [Yep, they’ll be cutting public services and selling the remains off to the highest bidder]
Our city: safer and healthier
Safer Bristol has recently completed a strategic assessment [Hurrah! Another strategy] which has identified a number of key priorities for the next three years
- reduce crime through strengthening police support [Note the term ‘police support’. No promise of more police and certainly not police on the streets]
- tackle rubbish dumping, littering and graffiti [More money to SITA]
- reduce anti-social behaviour, through the targeted use of ASBOs, working with families, particularly those at risk [Continue to criminalise and marginalise the poor through illiberal laws and overbearing levels of state intervention into the lives of the working classes]
- combat hate crime and domestic violence [More money for Peter Hammond and his looney equalities crew to pursue their 1980s style indentity politics at our expense]
- promote a sense of personal responsibility and respect [Oh do fuck off. Bristol Labour Party lecturing us on responsibility and respect. What next? Genghis Khan on pacifism?]
The challenge for the priority of ‘healthier city’ is to successfully link together the big strategic changes which create a healthier environment with the choices individuals make about their own lifestyles.
- increase year by year the number of people engaging in physical activity
- increase healthy eating- particularly targeting children and young people
- reducing smoking
- reducing substance misuse, including alcohol and drugs
[Oh shit. Looks like one of the biggest growth industries in the city is gonna be in irritating middle class humanities graduates who’ll be paid a fortune by the council to swan around moralising and telling the rest of us how to live our lives]
The quality of where we live is important. This priority focuses on our neighbourhoods.
- continue to improve neighbourhoods by responding to local concerns and increasing targeted clean-ups [More of those ‘clean and green days’ where they try to get us to sort out the rubbish they’re paid to clear up]
- ensure good quality parks and green spaces [while selling off the rest to developers]
- enable improved public transport [More subsidies to First Bus] and support alternatives to vehicle use [Even more subsidies to First Bus], such as cycle routes [More half-arsed cycle lanes to nowhere painted randomly on the roads] and safe routes for pedestrians [They’re called fucking pavements for Chrissake]
- provide leisure and cultural activities that reflect the needs of our diverse population [Funding for Ramadan and Diwali events available NOW]
What are our next steps?
6. I have given the broad outline of our priorities over the next three years [No you haven’t. You’ve gone out of your way not to mention anything that you’re actually likely to do or are planning to do over the next three years. eg. Congestion charging, selling off our parkland and open space for development, constructing a south Bristol ring road, Bristol Airport expansion, constructing a PFI incinerator at Avonmouth, agreeing to build 100,000 odd houses in the region, turning the Bristol-Bath Cycle Way over to First Bus to use as a monopoly bus route. You’ve also studiously avoided any mention of education and how you intend to improve our hopeless schools and incompetent LEA, you’ve mentioned nothing about the arena we want, the bus company we want rid of, the rapid transit system we urgently need and you’ve certainly said nothing at all about the well overdue reform of yourselves – what about four yearly all ward elections? Or better still an elected mayor?] We now need to ‘put the flesh on the bones’ and be specific about outcomes we will work to achieve by 2011. We look forward to the contributions to the debate today at Full Council to inform our thinking about outcomes, how ambitious should we be, balanced with realism about what is achievable.
7. The budget proposals we have published in December 2007 underpin the delivery of these priorities and potential outcomes. The Medium Term Financial Plan, as it is rolled out, will continue to support the delivery of our ambitions.
8. The Council is asked to debate the priorities detailed in the report in order that members views may be taken into account in ongoing work on the above priorities and in the drafting of the Council’s Corporate Plan.
And that’s it. Anyone familiar with the Emperor’s New Clothes? Attached to this rubbish from Holland is the proper plan by this Bristol Partnership quango, which we might look at some other time. Believe it or not, it’s actually worse!