The Master’s Voice – December 2012


Peter Rilett

Peter Rilett, Master of the Society of Merchant Venturers

Having officially taken over the mantle as Master of the Society of Merchant Venturers on 12 November at Charter Day, this marks my first Master’s Voice blog. I plan to use this platform to offer a personal insight into my activities as Master, and to provide regular updates on the Society’s many charitable, educational and enterprise interests within the city.

The biggest event in the city in recent weeks has of course been the appointment of new Bristol Mayor George Ferguson. After a closely fought campaign, and a tense final straight, George emerged the winner. The Merchants would like to wish George every success in his new role; he has some difficult challenges ahead of him. It is essential that he seize this opportunity to provide the city with the new direction and progress it desperately needs.

Bristol needs to have the confidence to take a longer term view. There is much to be gained from making better, longer term strategic decisions to help the city tackle its areas of deprivation and the difficulties present in getting around what is a relatively small central area. Businesses also need to be encouraged in a much more positive way to make a commitment to Bristol on a long term basis.

Since the demise of the county of Avon in the 1990s, much has been said about the limitations of the city boundaries, which have no economic rationale. This places an imperative on engaging with neighbouring local authorities to tackle strategic issues in a joined up way. The work of Colin Skellett and the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership provides a model for how this can be produced.

The first big event in my own calendar as Master was, of course, Charter Day, which celebrates the Royal Charter granted to the Society by Edward VI in 1552. A service at Bristol Cathedral featuring the Merchants and the schools we sponsor marked the transfer of the torch from outgoing Master David Marsh, to me. In centuries old Charter Day tradition, Senior Warden Anthony Brown and I spent a happy time after the service handing out Mr Colston’s buns and ‘shillings’ to pupils.

In terms of my own objectives for my year as Master, education remains a key priority. I believe education, particularly schools within the primary sector, will continue to move away from local authority control. I believe all-through-academies will increase in number in the city, particularly in areas of social deprivation. Our own Gay Elms Primary School and Merchants’ Academy will hopefully prove a successful model that other partnerships can learn from.

I also have in mind that in 2015 the school leaving age rises to 18. Currently, in some areas of the city there is little expectation for post-16 education. There now needs to be provision.

As a final note, in one of my first duties as Master, I was invited by BBC Radio Bristol to take part in the ‘Show and Tell’ feature on Saturday 17 November, in which guests bring along an artefact to discuss. I took along an impressive silver jug from the Merchants’ archives, presented to Captain Hosken, the captain of the ss Great Western paddle steamer by grateful passengers for a safe passage to New York after a particularly stormy crossing. Hopefully a few of you caught the show; it was good to be able to talk about both the Society’s historical links and our current activities.

Peter Rilett

Master of the Society of Merchant Venturers