Bristol's Mayoral candidates were duly challenged during the Youth Mayoral Debate, hosted by 'Young Bristol' at The Station on Thursday 25th October. The questions posed by Bristol's youth reflected a range of concerns and took a detour from the usual employment and housing-centric topics popular during former hustings.
One such question covered the issue of ending gun, gang and knife related crime in Bristol, which according to a Strategic Assessment led by the Safer Bristol Partnership is a major
concern, especially in more 'deprived' areas of the city such as St Pauls and Easton.
Marcus Smith, founder of the youth-orientated social enterprise 'Political Animal', chaired the event and prevented the debate from descending into an extended airing of their manifestos. Those candidates that addressed the questions directly were Danielle Radice (Green Party), Dr. Jon Rogers (Liberal Democrat) and Marvin Rees (Labour Party). They, along with George Ferguson, promised they would increase youth participation through establishing a youth's mayoral office. Others decided they would use the opportunity to plug their manifestos rather than constructively address the concerns of the audience with a considered answer. Neil Maggs' impassioned, finger-jabbing speeches left a lasting impression, although not a positive one.
Although many manifestos blur along the lines of Bristol's transport, which must be unequivocally improved, one of the themes that permeated the entire evening was tackling Bristol's youth unemployment. Bristol was granted a £1.1 Million apprenticeship fund last year, used to create 600 "higher" apprenticeships in the Bristol area by 2015. With additional funding to follow, Bristol is set to become an apprenticeship capital and the elected candidate must be able to deliver such a vision in tandem with other strategies to tackle this issue.
However, what exactly are the youth's barriers to unemployment? Is it really the lack of opportunity to build tidal lagoons as championed by the Respect party's candidate Neil Maggs? Is it a lack of skill and training? A lack of aspiration? An imbalance between opportunity and uptake? Which of our candidates has the foresight to investigate the reasons underlying such locally systemic problems? Who will be able to make evidence-based decisions, and use the powers granted to them to make a meaningful improvement?
The evening ended with a quick summise of their manifestos, with George Ferguson memorably abandoning the stage to address the audience at "their level". Whoever we decide Bristol's mayor will be, I hope they remember that in four years' time, the majority of the audience will be placing their candidacy under scrutiny once again, only this time with the power of their vote in their pocket.
For more information about the candidates click here.