PROFILE: Neil Maggs – 'I'm a proud Bristolian, born and bred here'
The Post is taking an in-depth look at each of the candidates bidding to be Bristol’s first elected mayor. Political editor Ian Onions is going beyond the manifesto pledges into the background of each candidate and looking at how they got to this point. Today, Neil Maggs.
Birthplace: Bristol Maternity Hospital
How long lived in Bristol: All my life, apart from three years as a student and two years in Taunton where I moved due to work
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Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Sunday, June 30 2013
Job: School bursar
Marital status: Not married but with a partner
Children: None, but three step children
Secondary school: Bristol Grammar School
University: Leeds Business School, then a part of Leeds Polytechnic
Have you ever been a member of a political party? If so, which ones (current and past): The Respect Party since 2005.
City or Rovers’ fan? More partial to City but my partner is a Rovers season ticket holder. I also follow Somerset County Cricket.
Odds (Ladbrokes): 200/1
Neil Maggs prides himself with being Bristol “through and through”.
His Dad, who worked for Wills for 34 years, is from Knowle West, his mother from Bedminster Down. His four grandparents and eight great-grandparents are all from South Bristol.
“I’m a proud Bristolian, born and bred here,” said Neil. “I’m south Bristol through and through and all I want to see is the best for this city – the best for everybody.”
Despite his working class roots, Neil passed an entrance exam to Bristol Grammar School, leaving with three A levels. He took a degree in accountancy and economics and became a qualified accountant. He now works as a bursar at a Bristol secondary school.
It did not occur to him that he might become his party’s mayoral candidate. Paulette North had originally been chosen but she stepped down for personal reasons in July.
“I voted for Paulette and agreed to be her No.2, her campaign manager,” Neil said. “I didn’t think I would be the candidate but after the vacancy arose, the party said I should go for it and my family were behind me, so I agreed.”
In truth, Neil did not need much persuading. Although his party’s core aim is to fight against cuts in public services and protect jobs, he is brimming with ideas for Bristol’s future.
But before we drill down to those, let’s not forget that Neil not only understands budgets and spreadsheets, he has actually worked for the city council. During his accountancy career, he spent nearly two years working in St Paul’s as part of the council’s Community Development team. He said he was very inspired by the work of colleagues to help improve the quality of people’s lives who were usually living in dire circumstances.
As a middle manager though, he was also involved in meetings with senior council managers and could therefore see the broader picture, not just what was happening on the ground.
Neil, aged 52, who has a partner and two stepchildren, is still chomping at the bit to tell me how he plans to turn Bristol around but I still want to know how he developed his political conscience.
For many years, he worked for Purnell’s the large printing firm in Midsomer Norton which was taken over by Maxwell’s empire and eventually closed down.
He was made redundant in 2002 along with many others and he could see that workers on the factory floor were getting trade union help but as a middle manager, he had none himself.
He went for the job with the council because he wanted to do something “socially useful” instead of “making money for someone in an office in London or America” and joined the union, Unison.
Only a few months later in early 2003, a friend gave him a book to read called ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist’ by Robert Tressell which Neil described as the progressive economist’s bible.
Although it was written in the middle of the 19th century, Neil said it explains what has gone wrong with society and what to do about it, both socially and economically.
It was also in early 2003, Neil pointed out, that Tony Blair “lied to the country about Iraq”.
He said: “These three things happened to me in the space of a few months and that is what awoked a political conscience in me.”
A year later, he was invited to a meeting of the Respect Party and he discovered that what he heard fitted with his own beliefs. He joined the party in 2005 when Ms North fought the Bristol East seat in the General Election.
Ok, time now to hear Neil’s vision for Bristol. “I want to see a Bristol which has full employment, where every young person leaving school or college knows there is going to be a job or a career for them.
“I want to see a Bristol where houses are affordable for everyone. We have seen the distortion in the housing market, locally and nationally, and to me that is wrong.
“Thirty years ago, the average age of the first time buyer was 24 but now it is 37.
“It means that people are starting families later in life which is creating a whole different generation gap.
“I think young couple in their early 20s should be able to set up a house together and start a family – that is not happening at the moment.”
Neil believes the council should take the bull by the horns and, by judicious long-term borrowing, build its own affordable homes by using its own Direct Labour Organisation.
He said a DLO could work from small beginnings by refurbishing empty homes which would be provided by private owners under shared tenancy agreements.
He believes that if the council was to take the initiative over house building and renovation, it would help to kickstart the local economy and create jobs.
He wouldn’t bother with a chief executive or a chief operating officer to run the council because he doesn’t think one is necessary. As mayor, he would lead from the front and cut out the top tier of management who earn a salary of nearly £200,000.
For himself, he thinks the £51,000 a year salary for the elected mayor which was agreed by councillors is still too high. He wants to see the elected mayor take home an average wage which is currently about £32,000.
Neil thinks that politicians and senior executives have selfishly had their snouts in the financial trough for far too long and you need to lead by example on such issues.
Yes, he would have a cabinet of elected councillors to help him but he wouldn’t have a deputy mayor.
His cabinet councillors would be cross-party and chosen on experience. Above all, they would have to put Bristol first and make decisions above and beyond their political leanings.
“Every single one of them should be working for the people of Bristol and helping to bring in economic policies which are to the benefit of everyone,” Neil said.
But the problem here is that every councillor will tell you that is exactly why they put themselves forward in the first place – to improve the quality of people’s lives. And many would argue that the best way to do this is to follow party lines.
Neil agreed that this argument could end in a train crash between himself as mayor and councillors but, in his own words, you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.
Neil is in support of the council taking control of bus services under Quality Contracts and is against the controversial rapid transit scheme (bendybuses).
He wants to see an arena in the city and if a private developer cannot be found to build it, then the council should do so with its own labour force.
“There’s 20,000 people unemployed in the Bristol area which is wrong,” Neil said. “I want to see every single individual who is ready, willing and able to do a day’s work for a fair day’s pay.”