Profiles of Labour’s candidates for the Bristol mayoralty: Kelvin Blake

As part of a series on all short-listed candidates, Amanda Ramsay speaks to former Bristol City Councillor Kelvin Blake

Kelvin Blake was the first Labour campaigner for a ‘yes’ vote in the 3 May referendum to publicly declare his interest in standing for Bristol mayor.

A likeable character, Blake presses all the right Labour buttons: “My focus and energy will be on delivering a fairer more equitable city for everyone,” he tells me.

Offering a good balance, with both city council experience and having spent his career in the private sector, Blake proudly tells of working his way up from the bottom, as he puts it, having left school with few formal qualifications. Blake is an experienced senior programme director at BT, living in Knowle West, about two miles from the city centre.

A non-executive director of University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust, Blake is a softly spoken Bristolian who speaks with infectious conviction and a real passion, not just for the city he’s always lived in, but also for the future of the Labour Party at a city level.

“We have the opportunity, between now and the election, to talk about an inclusive vision for our city and a programme of delivery, to tackle the key issues with a sense of urgency. That’s exciting.”

Of the election on 15 November, he points out: “This election is almost as important as a general election. It is about Bristol’s future but it will also be a judgement call on the terrible direction of this Tory led government and Labour’s response.

“In 2015, when Bristolians go to the polls in the general election, a Labour mayor needs to have delivered. That is why we need a strong candidate who can do the job, but also offer something new.

“I will draw on my private sector experience to bang the table and not take ‘no’ for an answer when negotiating with central government for the betterment of Bristol.”

Blake spent six years on Bristol City Council, almost ten years ago. This comes across in his command of detail and strategic thinking. He has a great party campaigning pedigree, having run the city-wide campaign in 2001 local elections and co-ordinated Bristol East’s election in 2005 for Kerry McCarthy MP.

One local activist says: “Kelvin will offer something a little different to ‘business as usual’, having been away from the Council House for long enough, to take an overview rather than be in any clique.

“He’ll provide a useful antidote to a tainted, squabbling council, more interested in the rough and tumble of getting one up on each other than doing what’s best for Bristolians. His background combines the best of local politics and business worlds.”

With the ballot closing on Wednesday 13 June, why should Bristol Labour Party members vote for Kelvin Blake?

When asked, Blake is very clear: “I can unite the party and motivate party members, the unions and supporters to campaign right across the city. This is our opportunity to re-establish Labour as the party with the ideas, experience and ability to change Bristol for the better.

“Raising the aspirations of our city and our young people, that’s the key theme of my selection campaign.”

Given the opportunity of negotiating a city deal for Bristol as Manchester just has, the new mayor must be capable of getting the best package of investment and extended powers.

“My job involves making important decisions on direction, negotiating with suppliers, partners and customers and building a successful business,” all transferable skills, Blake argues. “BT is the second largest private sector employer in the south west and we have recently invested £110m in Bristol, deploying superfast broadband.

“I bring that knowledge and drive to my role on the board of University Hospitals Bristol, where we have recently decided to invest in the redevelopment of the Bristol Royal Infirmary and Children’s Hospitals, achieved not by using PFI, but from careful stewardship of public funds and investing savings made during Labour’s years of record investment.”

As mayor, Blake clearly sees the bigger picture, seeing the position beyond city boundaries: “I would explore extending the Enterprise Zone (LEP) terms for small businesses through-out the city, deliver a Bristol Transport Authority and reduce bus fares by encouraging competition and price controls.”

Blake makes a convincing case for his candidacy: “I grew up in Knowle West, a deprived council estate, a place no one visited unless you lived there. There were many challenges growing up in poverty, however, the benefits were that it built my character and taught me to work hard, face adversity head on and never give up or feel sorry for myself.

“I have an inner strength that is unwavering. It’s that approach that has helped me forge a successful career and cope with adversity with a cool head, inner steel and a smile.”

Amanda Ramsay is a former Labour councillor and cabinet member

Bristol Labour Party mayoral selection official hustings: Friday 8 June at the Greenway Centre, Doncaster Road, Southmead, Bristol BS10 5PY from 6.15pm to 8.30pm. Bristol Labour party members wishing to attend MUST email or phone 0117 972 9447.

Follow @kelvinblake and the mayoral debate on @Mayor4Bristol1

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