People of all ages living in south Bristol have the skills, energy and potential to create a ‘Western Powerhouse’, said Karin Smyth, Labour MP, in her maiden speech to Parliament (Monday 8 June).
Pledging support for genuine efforts to devolve power to people, not structures, the Bristol South MP said: “Bristol was the only city to vote in favour of an elected mayor when given an opportunity. Bristol’s Mayor was elected by 9% Bristolians, on a turnout of 27%. Three years on – what is the lesson from this experiment for other cities? Bristolians are still waiting for improvements to transport, housing, skills and jobs. Bristol should be at the forefront of the devolution debate, not lagging behind.
“Structures alone cannot transform communities. Only people can,” she added.
“The sensible, strategic way ahead that meets communities’ real needs must be shaped not by distant legislators with a one size fits all proposal or individual Mayors with pet projects, but by the people and the communities affected – and the people and communities it can serve and empower. From Hartcliffe to Hengrove: from Bedminster to Bishopsworth; from Southville to Knowle.”
She said Bristol has “immense talent in its workforce – young and old – but too often people’s potential lies dormant, latent, untapped… just waiting to be triggered by local leadership and economic opportunities.”
And she cautioned: “In many ways Bristol’s story is a ‘Tale of Two Cities’: Thriving universities; booming finance, hi-tech and creative sectors, yet areas of severe economic disadvantage which are all too common in my constituency.”
Karin Smyth’s maiden speech followed Parliamentary protocol as she paid tribute to her predecessor, Dawn Primarolo, citing the building of the south Bristol hospital and the rebuilding of the city’s secondary schools as key achievements to sit alongside her Ministerial and Deputy Speaker roles.
Karin Smyth also spoke about the constituency itself: “There is a special warmth and generosity amongst south Bristol people,” she says. “They are, to use well-known local phrase, ‘gert lush’.
“They are forward-looking, ready to seize chances to help them shape a better future for themselves, their families, and their communities – communities that are strong, that have grown a great variety of community groups and enterprises to help and support themselves.”
Explaining the key economic role south Bristol has played in the past, she said “Bristol South has a proud industrial heritage”, and referred to the Bedminster coalfields and the tobacco industry that meant the constituency hosted, 40 years ago, Europe’s largest of cigarette factory, in Hartcliffe.
“But as manufacturers of growth,” she said Bristolians “were too rarely rewarded or permitted to share its fruits. In fact, many paid a high cost: from lives lost in the Dean Lane pit disaster, to industrial-related illnesses, and to health effects caused by tobacco in the manufacture of which the city played such a pivotal role.
“Having in the past powered economic growth, residents of Bristol are eager to play their part in doing so again,” she added.