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Building a Better Bristol

New types of investment are needed to kick-start our local economies. A team at Bristol Council is leading on the development of a local investment fund aimed at supporting the economic growth and wellbeing of the city.

‘If we want to do things at city or community level the financing is driven by what’s happening in the global market,’ says Ted Fowler. ‘We need to create new financial institutions that are focused on the needs of local places.’

The failures of global financial markets alone to invest in local opportunities have never been more apparent. Infrastructure vital for our future finds investment difficult to obtain, and local innovators and enterprises struggle to get investment as financial institutions are focused on serving global markets, while tax based investment is competing with other priority demands.

Ted Fowler and the team at Building a Better Bristol (BBB) want to bring financing back to the local level. BBB plans to launch an investment fund made up of public and private finance and dedicated to the economic, environmental and social needs of the Bristol area.

Building on support from Nesta and the Local Government Association through their Creative Councils programme, Building a Better Bristol is about reinventing our sense of place and community, according to Fowler:  ‘People have lost some of their stake in their locality and their communities’ success. By using some of our savings and investment capacity we can re-gain our mutual understanding of our destiny as a city and we can be more effective stakeholders in it.’

With the support of a group of investment analysts, the credit union, and other local and national research and practitioner bodies, the core team will help rejuvenate the practices of socialised finance that helped make cities successful in the past.

Thus, unlike conventional investment vehicles, the fund will provide the basis for engagement and collaboration with the citizens of Bristol and innovation in the use of resources. It will aim at bringing existing and new forms of citizen investment into the public realm, and scaling them up.

BBB envisages this mix of aggregated public and private finance could be used to fund long term developments that benefit the public good but which typically require significant funding, and provide economic partnership opportunities such as green energy programmes, new and improved housing to meet changing needs, superfast broadband, significant business and learning infrastructure and innovation and development for smart technologies and transport in the public realm. It will be open to funding proposals from local businesses and social enterprises, and will help capitalise the public services of the future.

A ‘trust’ will ensure that the fund is accountable to the citizens of Bristol, with local businesses, employees and institutions guiding its investment priorities. The BBB core team are predominantly Bristol Council officers, but the funds raised will not be controlled by the council. Rather, council casts itself in the role of enabler and partner bringing new forms of socialised investment to the city which will be run by and for the benefit of the Bristol area: its citizens, enterprises and civil society.

‘Building a Better Bristol will play a central role in financing the future of the Bristol region,’ says Fowler. ‘We believe that by providing a focus on Bristol as a place we can harness quality and breadth of investment in our locality as well as powering, through intelligent investment opportunities, the vision and drive of the innovators and entrepreneurs that are vital for our common future.’

With the right foundation in place the BBB team hope that the fund will be an investment vehicle appropriate for the needs of the city for the long term. It plans to eventually raise funds of more than £50m a year and to compete in the retail market for local people’s savings as well as attract money on better terms from the investment community.

The fund will help Bristol further develop capacity and expertise in social and ethical investment, allowing it to extract the local value from new funds and opportunities in social finance, from local bonds to the likes of Big Society Capital and the Green Investment Bank.

If such a fund had been created ten years ago, Fowler argues, the city of Bristol would have been more able to invest in its own enterprise zone and retain greater benefits for its own sustainable future. As it grows the fund will give Bristolians greater resilience and control over the development of their city through a commercial financial institution that has social value at its heart.

  • Ted Fowler, Deborah Kinghorn, Naa Adjeley Kwei and Rob Brown make up the Building Better Bristol team at Bristol Council
  • For more information see Building a Better Bristol: www.bristol.gov.uk/bbb

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