Labour's new leader vows to work with mayor
Labour's new leader Helen Holland has promised to work with mayor George Ferguson on key issues in the city.
But she said the time was not right to ask the party's ruling National Executive Committee to review its decision to ban Labour councillors from serving on the mayor's cabinet.
She did, however, hint that after the local elections in May, the NEC might be asked to "consider its options".
The party suffered a welter of criticism after the ban - and many Labour councillors are still privately furious about the decision.
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Ms Holland, 58, who regained the leadership of the Labour group on the city council at a private meeting on Monday night, said her role was to establish the group as a credible opposition.
"That doesn't mean opposing everything that comes up.
"We are in a new era now with a mayor who has a fixed term of office.
"I take his word that he wants cross-party co-operation and we want to participate in that."
She cited the example of a cross-party group which the mayor set up to examine the decision to close residential care homes.
Ms Holland said they were happy to take part in that exercise and the mayor had noted the contribution which Labour Councillor Jenny Smith had made.
"It would be churlish not to co-operate," Ms Holland said. "After all, we do want to do the best job we can for the people we serve."
She said that Mr Ferguson's three-and-a-half-year term of office meant he could take a longer view on issues which meant "short-termism" was dead.
"Short-termism" refers to the political sniping which has dogged Bristol's politics for years and which has stopped any real progress. Some councillors have been quick to score cheap points for the sake of longer term gains.
It's also one of the reasons why Mr Ferguson won such support for winning the mayoral election - his main ticket was being an Independent.
Ms Holland hammered home the point about collaboration: "I would be very pleased if we were able to show initiatives that are introduced where we played a clear role."
Some of the thorniest issues which need addressing are school places for primary pupils, providing more homes for an ever-increasing population and of course, transport.
Labour are expected to make gains at the local elections in May which could see the party emerge as the largest on the council.
The party is currently enjoying an upturn in popularity in the national polls and the seats which will be contested are mostly those which Labour are fighting, not defending.
She said the group was in favour of all-out elections every four years instead of one-third contested every year - although this position has to be confirmed by a group decision.
She added they were also keen to see a review of ward boundaries because of the disparity in the number of people in each of them. Some have as many as 17,000 while the smallest have fewer than 10,000.
She also sees the importance of neighbourhood partnerships - not simply because they give a role to backbench councillors but act as a counterpoint to the mayor at the top of the civic pyramid and decision-making at a community level at the base.
On Mr Ferguson's proposed budget, Ms Holland said she was disappointed that he had not been able to squeeze more funding out of the Government by securing a better grant settlement.
And she said that the effects of the budget would impact on people much more than had been suggested.
"Cutting ten per cent from community transport and removing the subsidy for the community meals service (better known as meals on wheels) is going to affect those people who use the service yet the amount of money saved is not a huge amount," she said.
She welcomes the idea of Mr Ferguson taking a root and branch review of local government and drawing up a zero-based budget in the years ahead.
This would mean the council would decide what services it wants to provide and then look at ways of financing them instead of lopping money from services on an annual basis.
But Ms Holland warned: "A lot of councils have gone down the road of a zero-based budget but we cannot assume that will solve all our financial problems.
"A huge amount of money has been taken out of council spending with what is known as salami-slicing but now there is not much salami left to slice."
Ms Holland, ward councillor for Whitchurch Park, is a former leader of council and has served on the council for more than 20 years.
The current make up of the council is Lib Dems 32, Labour 22, Tories, 14 and Greens, two.