VIDEO: Disagreement on key issues at Post's first mayor hustings
AT last – a hustings meeting in the run-up to the mayoral election which took off with some fiery debate.
In the first of four meetings organised by The Post, eight candidates who turned up at the Vassall Centre last night disagreed on key issues – and were caught out with some telling questions from the audience of about 80 people.
The candidates were put on the spot when they were asked if they thought the controversial bus lane in Fishponds had been a success. Traders have complained that they have lost business and drivers have complained of delays and resorted to using residential streets as rat runs.
Bristol's former transport leader Jon Rogers, who is standing as the Lib Dem candidate, admitted that he did not know whether the controversial bus lane had been a success.
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Independent candidate George Ferguson, who was another "don't know", said it was better to give an honest answer on an issue where you genuinely did not know all the facts.
Tory candidate Geoff Gollop said the bus lane in Fishponds had been an "abject failure" but said that did not mean there could not be a case for them in other parts of the city.
Neil Maggs (Respect Party) said he would abolish bus lanes on day one of taking office and take all the buses back under council control.
Tom Baldwin (Trade Union and Socialist Coalition) said the Fishponds' bus lane had not been a success but he was not opposed to them in principle.
Labour candidate Marvin Rees said on balance the bus lane had not been a success.
Daniella Radice (Green) said there should not be a bus lane between the Cross Hands pub and Lodge Causeway.
Tim Collins (Independent) said he wanted to use the Bristol to Bath cycle path for a rapid transit system.
Each of the candidates were asked how they would cut £25 million from the council's budget – savings which must be made next year to balance the civic books.
Mr Baldwin said he would oppose any cuts and demand that the Government give more funding.
Mr Maggs said he would rely on "judicious borrowing" and tapping into the council's reserves to avoid cuts.
Dr Rogers said the council had already saved £55 million and could save more money by running services more efficiently. He gave an example of how one department was now run by seven staff instead of 16 – and they had worked out for themselves the best way to do their jobs.
Mr Ferguson said the answer laid in encouraging inward investment to create more jobs and prosperity in the city.
He then took a verbal sideswipe at Mr Rees, for pledging to introduce a living wage for low paid council workers.
Mr Ferguson said he agreed with a living wage but the cost of implementing it meant you had to be realistic and phase it in over time.
Mr Rees responded by saying that it was a financially sound policy because if more low paid people had bigger pay packets, this would help to boost the local economy.
Mr Gollop said details of the way in which council officers plan to make the cuts would not be made public until after the election.
But he was convinced that "enormous savings" could be made without damaging front line services.
Ms Radice said she would like to see council tax payments increased by two per cent to avoid cuts.
She also wanted to see a smaller gap between the highest paid council officers – the acting chief executive earns £150,000 – and those on the lowest wages.
Mr Collins said when he served on Avon County Council, he had managed to save countless thousands of pounds by simply moving a pay date for staff back by a week. He was convinced the council could save money by "creative accountancy".
Mr Maggs had a dig at Mr Ferguson over his election promise in a campaign leaflet to appoint assistant mayors, youth mayors, and a chief operating officer, which he claimed would cost a total of £500,000 a year.
Mr Ferguson replied that he was referring to the cabinet, which he would legally be obliged to appoint if elected.
But it prompted one member of the audience to ask Mr Rees why he chose to have one of his election leaflets printed in Cardiff instead of locally.
Mr Rees apologised for what had happened, saying it was a mistake.
Afterwards, members of the audience gave their views to The Post.
Rachel Lee, 56, from Redfield, said: "It was good to hear what they had to say for themselves because it was much easier to take in what they were saying than just reading the leaflets that come through the door."
Clive Gardner, 60, a partner in an engineering company who lives in Fishponds, said: "I don't think some of the candidates are living in the real world and it certainly gave me a lot to think about."
David Mock, 52, an IT consultant from Fishponds, said: "I was very disappointed that Jon Rogers was still undecided about the bus lane in Fishponds. There is not a lot between some of the candidates and some of them are promising what the Liberal Democrats and Labour have failed to deliver in the past."
Theo Watt, 19, a student who lives in Fishponds, said he found the debate interesting.
The meeting was chaired by Post editor Mike Norton, who said the aim was to create lively debate and engage members of the public by giving them a chance to speak up.
More video from the hustings can be viewed below - here the candidates discuss having disabled people in their cabinet:
There will be three more Post hustings:
-Anglican Chapel, Arnos Vale on Wednesday, October 31 from 1pm to 2pm.
-Bristol Room, Memorial Stadium, Horfield, on Wednesday, November 7 from 7pm to 8pm.
-Ashton Gate on Monday, November 12, 7pm to 8pm.
Anyone can attend the debates but in order to give us an idea of numbers, we would prefer those doing so to let us know in advance.
If you would like to be in the audience, please ring 0117 934 3342, email email@example.com or visit http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/org/2805348936. Admission is free.