Highlights from the recent Bristol Initiative Members' Meeting with keynote speaker Mayor Marvin Rees OBE

Sam Harrison
Marketing Executive | Business West
27th March 2024

Last week members of the Bristol Initiative were kindly hosted by fellow Initiative members Osborne Clarke at their new Bristol home, the Halo Building. The event was sold out with over 100 members attending and Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees OBE as the keynote speaker.

Our president, Dr Justin Morris, opened the meeting by extending a warm welcome to all attendees, introducing new Bristol Initiative Members: BDO, Bristol & Bath Regional Capital, and Homes for the South West. He provided a scene-setting overview of recent highlights in the region, such as Gravity's announcement of hosting a £4 billion Gigafactory in Somerset, expected to create 4,000 jobs. Additionally, he mentioned the visit of Sir Keir Starmer to Bristol to kick off his national Election Campaign in January.

The latest findings from Business West's Quarterly Economic Survey were presented, indicating a contrast in sentiment between individual prospects and the UK economy as a whole. If you’d like to see the full Quarterly Economic Survey report, it’s now available to download here.

His speech concluded with a moment of remembrance for former colleagues Martin Boddy from UWE and Neil Baker from Clarke Willmott, who recently passed away. Condolences were extended to their families and friends, acknowledging their dedication to working with leaders across the region.

Justin thanked attendees for their participation and handed over to Peter Clough, Partner at Osborne Clarke, to continue the proceedings.

Peter introduced us to both the Halo building and Osborne Clarke. The state-of-the-art building has been the Osborne Clarke HQ since May 2023, and was at the time the most sustainable office in the country. Osborne Clarke may have only been in the Halo Building since May 2023, but they were actually founded in Bristol in 1758, 276 years ago. While they now have offices across the globe with more than 20 offices outside of the UK in places like New York, San Francisco and Shanghai they were solely based in Bristol until the 80s, when they expanded first out in the UK and then in the 90s they began to look internationally. But Bristol is still their home, and they are very proud of it. 

Next up was Victoria Matthews, Bristol Director for Business West and head of the Bristol Initiative. She talked about the ongoing projects that the Bristol Initiative is either leading on or a part of; OurCity2030, Bristol One City, the Growing Together Alliance and Futures West.

Victoria also reminded the attending members to make sure they register for the Business West Members’ AGM and the Festival of the Flourishing Regions on Thursday the 18th of April. If you are a Chamber member and have not registered for this event, please contact membership@businesswest.co.uk to get booked in.

Finally, Victoria shared the priorities for the Bristol Initiative in 2024:

  • Promoting clean inclusive growth
  • Transforming transport and mobility
  • Tackling deprivation
  • Improving education and skills

Up next was our keynote speaker for the evening, Mayor Marvin Rees OBE. Marvin was effusive and spoke clearly and humorously on the changes in Bristol over his tenure as mayor. He highlighted Bristol’s achievements over that time and the challenges, and made a few jokes that got the whole room laughing. It’s rare to say this in a recap of an event like this, but in all honesty I do think you had to be there to get the full impact of this speech, with how passionate Marvin was about Bristol and how open and honest he was about his time as Mayor. He talked a lot about his attempts to get Bristol’s mass transit programmes started before his tenure was up, specifically highlighting the studies by experts into the feasibility of an underground system and why it was actually less disruptive than it would be to create a tram system like Bristol had before the popularisation of cars. 

After Marvin’s keynote he sat with Victoria to take questions from the audience. We had some very insightful questions from members such as Nick Sturge from Mission Street, but one stood out for this recap from Amy Kington at Community of Purpose:

“Are there any regrets that you have about the state of our children and young people’s services in the city? Is there anything that you wish you could have done?”

Marvin emphasised the complexity of managing demand-driven services, with nearly 80% of the local government's budget allocated to meeting those needs. The impact of various factors such as Brexit, COVID-19, and the rising cost of living has further strained resources.

He also highlighted the difficulty in balancing austerity measures with increasing demands and costs, making it a challenging situation to navigate. Despite efforts to maintain essential services, such as frontline services, there are limitations due to financial constraints. 

Furthermore, he addressed the strain on staff and resources, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to increased pressure on frontline workers. He lamented the loss of expertise due to staffing shortages and emphasized the importance of investing in skills and resources to deliver quality services effectively.

To attend the Bristol Initiative Members’ Meetings and be able to meet and ask questions of leaders in the business community and beyond, you need to be a member of the Bristol Initiative, as the events are invite only. To enquire about membership please contact initiative@businesswest.co.uk 

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