Local Democracy Week

Today’s guest blog is from Alderwoman Marg Hickman, who was conferred with the title on Tuesday – after representing Lawrence Hill for ten years and also serving in my Cabinet and as Leader of the Bristol Labour Group – as we mark Local Democracy Week 2021.

Her ceremony and speech at Extraordinary Full Council is available to watch back from 32:35 and reproduced below.

“Being made an Alderwoman is a real civic honour, though not nearly as much of a privilege as I found serving the people of Lawrence Hill for ten years.

“I most enjoyed getting to know the communities of the ward and would like to think that, feeding in that daily local intelligence, I was able to help us make a positive and lasting difference to their lives.

“This is surely the only real reason why anyone stands for election.

“I am proud to have seen Marvin re-elected to continue to do just that,
and I am proud to carry on serving as a trustee of Felix Road Adventure Playground, which continues to go from strength to strength.

“During my time on the council, I met lots of dedicated councillors and council officers – all trying their best, all trying to do much more with far less over the past decade. Over the past eighteen months of the pandemic, Bristol’s local authority key workers have rightly, at long last, had some of the wider recognition that we know they richly deserve.

“One of my lower points may have been getting overheard, unmuted, during my last Budget meeting – but I console myself that it was not as bad as Handforth Council’s webcast, or the Department of Health’s CCTV!

“I was also proud to serve on the Women’s Commission, and I know that we still have more work to do to make this chamber look like the city it’s there to serve – especially in terms of female representation.

“Having chaired and then led the Labour Group for a number of years,
I want to thank party colleagues and workers for their support.

“As well as Marvin, and my friends being conferred with titles today, it feels right to take a moment to reflect on the contributions of those who have not been honoured today – I am thinking particularly of Ruth, Carole, Tom, Gill, Kye, Afzal, Celia, and Jon.

“While I might not always make it to the Aldermen and Alderwomen’s bench for every Council meeting, I do hope to be there when Full Council confers the status posthumously on the late, great Mike Langley.

“Finally, I’d like to share one of my favourite quotations from Maya Angelou:

“‘People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did,
but people will never forget how you made them feel.’

“Thank you.”

New funding for Barton Hill

Image from building survey (below)

In March, Councillor Hibaq Jama and then-councillor Marg Hickman brought together community anchor organisations to look at the derelict former Tenants’ Hall in Barton Hill.

We then commissioned an independent assessment of the building (published below). It found repairing and converting the current building would cost over £1.4 million.

This brownfield site has the potential to be part of building in and up, not out. Projects like this are essential as we continue to tackle the housing crisis and invest in creating successful, healthier neighbourhoods.

We recently secured almost £200,000 as part of a wider national government programme to cover the costs of demolition to clear the site, if that route is supported by the local community.

Demolition would create a blank canvas for the site in Barton Hill, without the limitations posed by the existing building. It would likely create more opportunities for interested parties to work with the community towards a potential mixed use development. This project could include much-needed new affordable housing and modern, purpose-built community space, and, in line with our land disposal policy for community-led housing, we will be exploring potential for transferring the site to a community organisation.

Our successful bid comes ahead of further community engagement work, talking about the current nature of the building and the potential for new community space and new affordable housing. We are hoping to be able to share details of community workshops soon, for local people and organisations to co-create future options for the site.

Bristol’s Heat Network

Today’s guest blog is from Councillor Nicola Beech, Cabinet Member for Climate, Ecology, Energy, and Waste, and Labour Councillor for St George Central

To play our part in the fight against climate change, Bristol has committed to becoming a carbon neutral city by the year 2030. The expansion of Bristol’s Heat Network to new communities across Bristol is one key ingredient in securing Bristol’s energy future and providing businesses and homes with heat and energy form low carbon sources.

Heating and hot water currently account for 40% of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions worldwide, and 40% of Bristol’s emissions come from heating our homes and workspaces, so it is vital that we continue to invest in technology like this to support our transition to net zero.

What’s Bristol’s Heat Network?

Heat networks are a network of underground pipes that deliver affordable, low-carbon heat and energy to homes and businesses across the city. Bristol’s Heat Network is divided into different sections that cover areas across the city, with each section powered by a local energy centre. Heat networks are not new technology and are commonplace across Europe, with Copenhagen topping the charts with its heat network supplying around 98% of the city’s heat demand. Heat networks are less common in the UK and Bristol really does lead the way here.

Our existing heat network now supplies over 1,000 properties with low-carbon heat with pipe spanning over 8km underground. The neat part of heat networks is that they can draw their heat from many different sources – from the river to sewers to underground geothermal. So as our city continues to transition to 2030 and other heat sources become available, our heat network can live on.

But timing is everything and our cabinet paper brings forward our investment into Bedminster Green where 2,000 new homes are being built. By taking this decision, we are ensuring that we minimise disruption during the installation of the underground pipes and low carbon energy centres and have the energy solution in place ready to serve new developments as they are built.

What’s next for Bristol’s Heat Network?

The approved Bedminster section of the network will use heat extracted from waste-water in our sewer system to provide homes with warmth and warm water. We are living our waste nothing values by recycling Bristol’s hot shower water to heat homes elsewhere.

We are also continuing with the construction of a new Water Source Heat Pump in Castle Park, a renewable technology that will create heat from water in the floating harbour and the largest in the country.

As we see global shocks in gas prices forcing consumer bills up, I am really proud to be part of an administration which is creating the energy infrastructure Bristol needs, putting us in control of our energy future and taking big leaps on our journey to 2030.

You can find out more about Bristol’s Heat Network at: www.energyservicebristol.co.uk

BoKlok on the Brook and the UN’s SDGs

Today’s guest blog is by Graeme Culliton, Managing Director of BoKlok UK

When BoKlok was founded back in Sweden in the 1990s, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) weren’t around yet. Much like the UK today, at that time Sweden was experiencing an urgent shortage of homes, specifically for people on average incomes.

One person who saw the need for change was Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of IKEA. He recognised that new homes had to be made accessible for ‘ordinary people’, and his vision was to give everyone the same opportunity to live well.

Fast forward to today and we are proud to be continuing this vision right here in Bristol. One reason we decided to start our business in the city is because it’s here that you’ll find the people that think most about sustainability and saving our planet. These are the people open to new thinking and ideas, much like Mr Kamprad.

A key to unlocking this vision has been through implementing the SDGs into our way of working. We use them to guide us in delivering homes for ordinary people, whilst – at the same time – meeting the needs of a wider community.

The main seven key goals we work to are:

  1. Good Health & Wellbeing (SDG 3)
  2. Gender Equality (SDG 5)
  3. Reduced inequalities (SDG 10)
  4. Sustainable Cities & Communities (SDG 11)
  5. Responsible Consumption (SDG 12)
  6. Climate Action (SDG 13)
  7. Partnerships for the Goals (SDG 17)

Sure, we are a for-profit organisation, but it’s not just NGOs and political bodies who are responsible for following the SDGs – it’s everyone. It’s down to the private sector to adopt the goals, and we take our role in this seriously.

Sustainability and climate

You can’t read through the SDGs (or Bristol’s One City Plan for that matter) without recognising that careful attention must be given to our carbon footprint in the UK. That’s why building sustainably is one of our main drivers. But how do we do this?

We start by manufacturing all our BoKlok homes offsite in state-of-the-art production facilities using advanced timber frame construction technology. Timber is one of the most sustainable materials you can use in construction, so you won’t see a single BoKlok module made with anything else. Building our homes offsite in a factory also means that we reduce waste considerably, cut deliveries to site in half, and even reduce our time on site by over 50% compared with traditionally built houses. Good news for the planet (and great news for our neighbours!). 

Levelling the playing field

Alongside reducing our environmental impact, the UN’s goals call us to also reduce inequality in our communities. In Bristol, local policy looks to safeguard this by holding house builders like us to selling a minimum of their new builds as affordable housing (30% in our case). On our Bristol-based site, BoKlok on the Brook, that would mean 52 new affordable homes. I’m proud to say that we have gone beyond that and raised this to 46%. That means 27 more affordable homes than required, and a total of 79 homes going to the vulnerable individuals and families in the community that need them the most.

Delivering safe, quality homes for people that really need them is a major way we’ll see a reduction in inequalities in our cities. A stable home environment has many benefits: educational achievement leading to better chances on life and increased quality of health and well-being, to name just two. These matter and have a very real impact in changing the direction of people’s lives.

The BoKlok vision may have begun in Sweden back in the 1990s, but since then our ‘BoKlok way’ has taken shape and with it, our commitment to the UN’s SDGs. Are we as far along as we want to be? Of course not. We only started in the UK two-and-a-half years ago and that means we’re still making mistakes and learning from them. But through collaboration with committed partners (see SDG 17) such as the Bristol City Council or the Bristol Housing Festival, we’re extremely confident that we’ll start to see these goals realised here in Bristol, sooner rather than later.

World Habitat Day

Ian Barrett stands, smiling, in a black fleece with Avon Wildlife Trust's badger logo, with green hills and trees behind him. Ian writes for World Habitat Day.
Today’s guest blog is from Ian Barrett, Chief Executive of Avon Wildlife Trust (photo credit: Jon Craig)

The United Nations recognises the first Monday of October of every year as World Habitat Day, which is intended to remind the world that we all have the power and the responsibility to shape the future of our cities and towns.

We live in challenging times, but there is reason for hope and things that we can all do to help to restore the health of our planet for people and wildlife.

An Ecological Emergency

Next month, countries from around the world will meet in Glasgow to talk about how we tackle the challenge of climate change. Next year they will be meeting in China to look at how we tackle the challenge of declining wildlife and the ecosystems that support life on Earth.

The figures are stark. We’ve lost 68% of the world’s wild vertebrates since the 1970s. Nationally, we’ve seen massive and accelerating declines in previously common species such as songbirds and hedgehogs. In Bristol we’ve lost 96% of our swifts and swallows since the 1990s. This matters not only for wildlife, but also for all of the things nature does for us, ultimately including clean air, clean water, and the pollination of food.

Reasons for Hope

It’s easy to get down about the state of the world’s natural environment. “Eco-anxiety” is a growing issue for people of all ages. But there are signs of hope. We have wild beavers back in the river Avon for the first time in over 400 years. Lapwing are raising chicks in the Gordano valley after a 20 year absence. We know that where we restore damaged habitats and give nature a helping hand, wildlife can recover and thrive. 

Bristol has led the way in facing up to today’s environmental challenges. We were the first major UK city to declare a climate emergency in November 2018 and the first to declare an ecological emergency in February 2020.

What You Can Do

Our ecological emergency strategy sets out the actions we need to take as a city and as individuals to restore nature and bring wildlife back. This includes managing more land for nature, reducing pesticide use, cleaning up our rivers and reducing the impact of the things we buy on wildlife and habitats around the world. Our ambition is to see 30% of land managed for the benefit of wildlife by 2030, including wildlife friendly gardens, green spaces and business parks and more nature-friendly farming.  

We want to create and support a movement for change, with people and communities coming together to take action for wildlife. Every little action can help, from planting bee-friendly plants in window boxes to rewilding local green spaces, creating a pond or bug hotel, choosing to buy food from local, organic producers. You can find 30 things you can do to help wildlife on the Avon Wildlife Trust website. Join us today in helping to secure the future of our planet for people and wildlife.

Avon Wildlife Trust's banner, showing a wild beaver in the river Avon, with the following text: 

"30% of land and sea by 2030: help aid nature's recovery - donate today."

Ian writes today for World Habitat Day.

West of England Black Interns Pilot

The West of England Black Interns Pilot offered 50 paid internships to black students living or studying in the region for four weeks beginning 6 September 2021. In the South West, Mayor Marvin Rees and Chris Hill, the CEO of Hargreaves Lansdown, have been inspired by the ambition and the simplicity of the #10000BlackInterns initiative. This sits alongside other projects, including Stepping Up.

In order to maximise the impact on young people in the region at a time when unemployment is rising, Hargreaves Lansdown launched the West of England Black Interns Pilot with the support of the Bristol City Council.

To gain insight into the programme, interns have provided a review of their time with Bristol City Council, exploring key responsibilities, skills developed and highlights of their time as an intern.

Abraham – the Mayor’s Office

As an intern at the Mayor’s Office, I gained great insight into the many projects being commissioned by the Bristol City Council and was provided the opportunity to work with the Mayor of Bristol.

A highlight from my time as an intern was accompanying Marvin Rees to a speech at Oasis Academy Brightstowe, in which I gained invaluable insight into Mayoral leadership in the city. From the very first moment I entered the City Hall, I was met with a positive can-do attitude embodied by all the council’s workers, thus making the work environment motivational and enjoyable. The support received from my two supervisors Paige and Hannah was above and beyond, providing me with key insight into the many career paths available following the internship.

My time in the Mayor’s Office has also given me the opportunity to network with partner organisations and a variety of departments within the council. Following a meeting with the Head of Finance, I was given the opportunity to work alongside experts in the field and assigned a report/briefing to publish. I would greatly recommend a career within Bristol City Council, as the ethos of the organisation/working environment is beyond welcoming and the support provided by the Mayor and members of staff has been life changing.

Musa – Finance

My favourite part of the internship experience has been the opportunity to network within a prestigious environment. Working in an environment where everyone is friendly and collaborative provided me with the opportunity to network with experts as well as gain advice and perspectives from their professional careers. Something I found surprising during my internship was the organisation of the Council. Upon entering the office, I was taken back by how large the building was, how the teams and departments were set out, all the digitised data and documentation systems as well as other programs/platforms used daily.

I liked the variety of challenging tasks set by my managers and the opportunity to assist in tasks set by the finance and auditing departments. The internship has greatly pushed me and motivated me to achieve success in my future career. I encourage everyone coming in after me to have a positive mindset and not to be afraid to communicate your reservations to your managers especially if you ever start to feel overwhelmed, as everyone is very understanding.

Adila – Communications

While interning in the Communications department for Bristol City Council, I gained great experience working with different teams, sharing ideas and learnt lots. I heard inspirational accounts by guest speakers on their career journeys, taking tips as I continue to embark on my own journey. My best moments include meeting the Mayor, receiving valuable insight, talking to cabinet members and attending a Full Council meeting live in the Council Chamber. Designing, forming and presenting a self-directed mini-campaign within the departments I worked with at City Hall was surely another highlight, as well as networking with other interns on the programme. The internship provided a valuable opportunity to navigate your interests into the world of work, helping form your next steps.

Biniyam – Energy Team

During the time I spent with Bristol City Council, I have gained different invaluable skills by working with the energy team. The ability to work collaboratively on different projects has given me an opportunity to build communication, team-working and time-management skills. Furthermore, I have boosted my critical thinking skills by applying the theory I have learnt at university to the work environment. During my four weeks, I really enjoyed the site visits and events I attended in person, which I believe both assisted to observe the technical aspect of the work and network with professionals from various areas of experts. Overall, I am delighted with the structure of the internship, my time working with the council and am grateful for all the support I received.

Liam – Finance

My internship experience was incredibly valuable. I learnt about the intricate workings of the council, particularly the finance department. There were many opportunities to develop soft skills whilst better positioning me to applying to a graduate scheme and a Master’s in Finance. One of my favourite experiences, which demonstrated my analytical skills, was the opportunity to work on financial forecasts which directly influence documents presented to cabinet and publicly published financial plans. Other highlights were participating in weekly calls with senior staff within the financial department and attending Full Council and Cabinet.

The opportunity to meet the Mayor of Bristol and the Chief Executive was an inspiring experience providing me with valuable career insights. Talking to senior directors within the council about their careers greatly helped me plan for my goal of entering financial services industry. I have gained worthwhile career contacts and friends, memories I will never forget, clarity around my career goals and the skills to get to my chosen destination. I would recommend applying to the internship program as it offers a great opportunity to improve your employability skills and gain valuable work experience.

Delivering for Bristol

Last week, I was delighted to contribute to Stronger Together: Labour Works, a report that highlights the work that Labour-run authorities across the country to change lives for the better – including how we are delivering for Bristol. It is a case study of what Labour can achieve in power, even in the age of austerity, and I would highly recommend everyone reads it.

My contribution to the report focussed on our Children’s Charter – a joint effort from myself and Councillor Godwin to enshrine the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into local decision making. Doing so helps our work to ensure that all children, no matter their background, are able to reach their full potential and live happy, healthy lives.

Decisions the Council and major organisations make affect children and young people on a daily basis – so we codified their rights and ensured their interests were placed at the heart of decision making.

The Bristol Children’s Charter is emblematic of One City working, as we’ve worked with Bristol’s major institutions to reach common goals and improve lives across the city. Bristol’s institutions, as well as the Council, are now committed to working to ensure every child can live in a warm home, no child goes hungry, and every child is able to benefit from Bristol’s thriving cultural scene, among a number of other things – showing the difference local authorities can make.  

This charter is the foundation of our work to make Bristol the best possible city to grow up in, but we’ve gone much further. In 2016 we promised to deliver work experiences for children and young people – by 2021, we provided 12,000 experiences of work for people who wouldn’t readily have access to them. In his speech to party conference, Keir Starmer pledged to bring back compulsory work experience programmes, after the Government scrapped them in 2012, so I am pleased the importance of work experience are being prioritised by Labour nationally.

The charter also commits us to ensuring children have space to learn and play. With that principle in mind, we protected all our children’s centres despite youth centres closing across the country. Building on this, we are now a step closer to opening a world-class Youth Zone in south Bristol, bucking the national trend of closures and cuts.

Another principle of the charter is working to provide children with the healthiest possible environment. We are cleaning up our air and are on track to be carbon neutral by 2030. We can and will go further, pushing ahead with our plans to invest £1 billion in clean energy and double our tree canopy.

This is just a snippet of our work in delivering for Bristol, and the work Labour leaders across the country – showing the power that local government has to change people’s lives for the better.

Chamberlain Lecture 2021

Mayor Marvin Rees delivers the 2021 Chamberlain Lecture.

On Tuesday, I gave the third Chamberlain Lecture on Local Government at Cratus in London.

The livestream of my speech is available on YouTube, with the full text below.

*check against delivery*

I want to start by thanking Cratus for inviting me to deliver today’s Chamberlain Lecture.

It is great to be here with you in person, as well as on the live-stream.

While it is a huge honour, it is also a huge challenge to follow on from Lord Heseltine and Lord Kerslake.

I have been reflecting on all of their legacies – and in this Chamberlain Lecture, I hope that I can do them justice.

Joseph Chamberlain was Mayor of Birmingham for only three years and yet he is remembered for delivering so much.

Many of his social reforms have been realised, revised, and refined in the almost 200 years since his birth.

Chamberlain’s ideas – of a state proactive on critical issues from universal education to old age pensions – are understood to have helped inspire the seminal Beveridge ‘cradle to grave’ report in the following century.

Michael Heseltine has been a unique voice in Westminster politics – one that recognised the need to – and actually sought to – proactively invest in and share power with our local authorities and cities.

While I did not know Joseph Chamberlain and I do not know Michael Heseltine, I have gotten to know Bob Kerslake.

He has been a personal support to me as a first time politician and his UK 2070 Commission offers a major contribution to our understanding of regional inequalities across the UK and what we need to do to tackle them – not merely as an issue of fairness, but in the national interest.

These inequalities rob the nation of talent.

I hope to pick up on many of those themes during the course of this talk and the discussion that follows. I will share some of the experiences and insights that we – my team and I – have developed as we have tried to offer our city good leadership and work with government.

I will also share how we have grown into the necessity of city leaders connecting with other city leaders in order to influence national and international policy and events.

What’s it like being a Mayor?

But I thought I would start by answering a question asked in a recent Cratus discussion with Lord Heseltine and that question was “what is it like being mayor?”

On Friday, I spend an hour and a half with prefects at a secondary school talking about life and aspiration.

Yesterday, I started the day discussing my cabinet appointments before thinking with my team how we would manage our relationships within our combined authority.

As I left the office yesterday evening, I confronted a guy weeing on City Hall.

I was joined by an old school friend who happened to be walking past and took umbrage to the manner in which the said “wee-er” responded to my challenge.

Enough said about that!

Last week, I was on a call with fellow mayors from the Mayors Migration Council, planning our approach to the current migration crises and the increasing the likelihood of shocks that will produce more crises in the future.

This morning I recorded a panel discussion with Professor Gregg Clark, Chair the UK Cities Climate Investment Commission, and Alice Charles of the World Economic Forum, on the question: “How do Cities Finance the Transformative Work They Want To Do?”

And this evening, I am with you.


As one former Governor of New Jersey put it…

Mayors are part of a small number of politicians, who have to be one hundred per cent focused on getting stuff done – not just saying stuff.

There are no “opposition” Mayors; there’s no such thing as “shadows” in local government.

Great speeches or clever questions “don’t solve one problem for one person.”

As a Mayor, you’re expected “to plow the snow, … to get the schools open.”

Great legislators can be consigned to opposition for their entire time in office.

But as a directly elected Mayor, there is no break from responsibility, no break from visibility, no break from delivery.

The reason the job exists – particularly for a city like Bristol, which was the only city to vote yes to having a Mayor in the 2012 referendums – is simple.

It is to get stuff done… and yesterday.

And its relentless.

Just after I was elected, I was in New York and I visited with Michael Berkowitz, the Head of 100 Resilient Cities and who had worked as a leading member of Michael Bloomberg’s Mayoral team.

I was in that imposter syndrome phase of my own mayoralty, desperate for anchors and certainty.

I talked about this with Michael.

He said to me the first year that they were in power was like having their mouths around a fire hydrant.

That gave me some peace.

And it is one of the reasons that Bloomberg has gone on to launch the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative – because as he said, there is no natural preparation for being mayor – for being a city leader.


Before I was elected, Steve Bullock, the former mayor of the London Borough of Lewisham, shared with me a bit about his experience.

He told me of going into his office as mayor and finding all these metaphorical levers presented to him as the levers for change.

But – he said – as he pulled them he found they were not actually connected to anything.

He needed to build a team, systems, and a culture that would connect his leadership to the physical, social, political, and economic forces in the borough that would ultimately improve the outcomes for its citizens.

We have taken this to heart in our approach to city leadership.

We have had to take the local authority itself in hand.

We commissioned Stephen Bundred, the former Chief Executive of the Audit Commission, to undertake a review of Bristol City Council when we came into office, following discovery of some major financial challenges.

In his findings he described an organisation with a failure of collective leadership, where the governance was not up to standard, finance needed urgent attention and with a culture that was hierarchical and bullying.

We had to deal with that.

But as essential as it was, we were clear that our challenge was not just to sort out the council.

The mayoral mandate was to lead the city.

We developed our understanding of Bristol as a collective endeavour.

That what people get from Bristol is not the result of decisions made by any single organisation.

You do not pull a lever in an education department or a school and get a straight line to an education or life outcome.

Rather people sit at the intersection of a vast spectrum of organisations, making and ducking decisions.

To illustrate the point, a primary school teacher said to me that if he could make one intervention for education then he would ensure every child had a kitchen table.

He did not talk about the education system itself, he talked about children’s wider lives.

I took that as meaning a home with space to do work, and a place for a family to come together, in which there was enough food to eat.

This complexity speaks to our interdependence.

No single city, organisation, or sector can flourish alone.

Before I was elected, I wrote to our Local Enterprise Partnership.

It had a strategy that stressed skills but nowhere talked about health.

I argued skills are great but count for nothing if people are at home with back pain and depression.

Health was not just an issue for the NHS, it was a key economic issue.

I asked “what would it mean to the West of England economy if we were able to say we had the most well workforce in Europe, with the fewest numbers of a days of absenteeism?”

In turn, health outcomes depend on the start that children get in life – homes, the quality of parental employment and access to nutritional food, and extra-curricular activities.

The social is the economic, is the health, is the political.

Through the mayoral mandate, we have sought to find a way of leading that works with this interdependence, across the wider determinants of city outcomes, rather than leading in line with government finance, cabinet delegations, and the way public services are organised.

In 2017 I convened our first City Gathering.

The idea was to bring together those people in the city who shaped big budgets, and had reach into people’s lives.

70 to 75 people turned up from health, the private sector, further and higher education, schools, the voluntary, community and faith sectors, and unions.

My office did a back of the envelope calculation.

There was approximately £6 billion worth of spending represented in the room, and between us we employed around 70 thousand people.

We talked about the expertise in the room, our hopes for Bristol, and our interdependencies.

I fed back on the power in the room, and posed a question:

“If we all, this morning, agreed to focus our collective efforts on a small number of shared outcomes, what could we not do?”

It is a process that launched our Bristol One City Plan that sets out what we want Bristol to be in 2050 and the sequence of annual goals and outcomes that we need to deliver to become that city.

And we now have those City Gatherings every six months and they are attended by around 500 people.

Our former Chief Constable Andy Marsh once said to me over dinner that “world class public sector leadership is not about what you control, but what you influence”.

We have described this as the move from city government to city governance.

City government is the disproportionate focus on the local authority, city governance works to get alignment between all those place shaping organisations, systems, and cultures.


Another feature of this complexity is the tendency for cities to be contradictory.

Mayors have to navigate and resist the temptation to indulge or be forced into over-simplification.

The hauling down of the Colston statue in Bristol in June 2020 is an example of why this is important.

I was challenged to condemn the Black Lives Matter protest as a whole.

I was challenged to condemn those individuals who toppled the statue.

I was challenged to condemn the police.

I was challenged to condemn the football lads who organised a rally to protect the nearby Cenotaph the following weekend.

I was even – as a black, working class mayor – challenged by some white, middle class people to apologise for slavery itself.

My response to the Colston Statue itself is pretty well documented, but let me tell you about something that is less well known: the visit that I made to the football lad who had organised the Cenotaph rally.

He had called both of Bristol’s football firms and the firms of surrounding towns and cities.

He had called the Hells Angels to turn up.

So he was – is – connected.

And they surrounded the Cenotaph, and anti-racism protestors also turned up.

Some described his rally as a far-right rally.

My cousin is a football lad and knew the organiser.

Long story short, my chief of staff and I went to meet him.

Our priority was to hold the city together – and we wanted to understand him.

He stressed he was not racist, that he was not far-right.

We talked about motivation.

He didn’t like ANTIFA but he mostly talked about housing and jobs.

I asked him what was happening for the guys who turned out.

He said:

“Marv, they feel like they are losing their city”

I said:

“They are losing their city, but they aren’t losing it to migrants, they’re losing it to house prices”

Then his wife came to offer us a cup of tea.

She was – is – black.

As I was about to leave he wanted to show me a picture.

It was a picture of his wife and I from 2016, just after I was elected.

He still had it on his phone.

It is complicated.

And mayors must hold cities together in the face of complexity and contradiction, and avoid the simplistic plays to subsets of the whole population.


As of this moment I am doing well in accumulating the number of dictators I have been compared to.

I have been likened to another Joseph – Stalin – and Kim Jong Un.

Polpot has been thrown in the mix.

One local campaigner – a Labour Party member – said I was behaving like a member of the Ku Klux Klan, and last year an opposition councillor warned council officers that a “I was simply following orders” defence would not protect them.

Chamberlain got this himself around 150 years ago, being called ‘a monopoliser and a dictator’.

So think it’s OK.

It comes with the territory.

The truth is the mayoral model offers a visibility of leadership that is critical to democratic accountability.

Rather than taking the cover of an anonymous group in a committee room, the mayor is responsible – even if sometimes quite unfairly so.

Journalists interrogate me, campaigners target me, the public ask of me.

Some say they are concerned about the concentration of executive power in the Mayor’s hands.

But here is the counter to that:

First, as I said before, the mayor does not have absolute power – there are many points of sovereignty in the city

That power can be used to convene and ask – in Bristol at least – in a way that doesn’t seem to have been possible here before.

And third, the level of accountability that comes with the mayoral profile must bring with it power or else the mayor is unfairly held accountable for decisions they did not make, while the actual decision makers are able to avoid accountability.

Relationship with national government

Previous Cratus conversations have touched on the limitations of national government in general, and the dysfunctionality of its relationship with local government and cities in particular.

And I will share that, as a first-time politician, I have been shocked by the ability of national government to add uncertainty to an already complex and unpredictable world.

And it seems to be done with more much more confidence than self-awareness.

The UK is one of the most heavily centralised countries in Europe, if not the world.

In 1970, 60% of local government cash was determined by central government.

By the mid-2000s, despite devolution to Belfast, Cardiff, and Edinburgh, as well as to the Mayor of London, this figure had risen to 85%.

In 2016, the year I took office, 91 pence out of every pound of taxation was controlled by the Treasury.

We urgently need a new sovereignty settlement across the UK in general, and for cities in particular.

Government structures will never be the top of the national agenda – but local authorities and cities know and say that we have untapped potential.

Work with us, agree the vision, plan how to achieve it, develop a line of predictable finance to underpin delivery of those plans.

Then we can realise that potential, to ensure we have a post-covid recovery, and one that is inclusive, decarbonised, and resilient.

We have got to get the basics right.

In 2017 I opened the local paper to learn that:

“Bristol is still in the dark over rail electrification as Government cancels upgrade plans in south Wales.

“The DfT have already placed a pause on electrification between Bristol and Bath, as well as between Bristol Temple Meads and Bristol Parkway stations, as it looked to tackle the ballooning £2.8 billion costs of the upgrade programme across the line.”

I had not had a call.

The article said Ministers had been hinting, but I cannot work with hints.

It is no way to plan for a major part of national infrastructure.

In 2019 I stood on the government’s stage at MIPIM, an international investment conference, to talk about our Temple Quarter regeneration opportunity.

11,000 homes, 22,000 jobs, and £1.6 billion per year to our economy.

It was introduced as one of the most exciting regeneration opportunities in Europe.

Despite universal approval and support from the highest level, we have not been about to get someone, somewhere in government to send the email releasing the money needed for the renovation of Temple Meads to kickstart it.

This uncertainty can make us a less dependable partner for others.

The University of Bristol are building a brand new £300 million campus and L&G are investing £350 million on Temple Island, all right next the station.

We have kept things going, but the uncertainty from government is not helpful.

Of course we now have “Levelling Up”, “Build Back Better”, and “Devolution”.

How much time have local authorities spent moving between trying to work out what those phrases mean, trying to influence what they mean, and trying to position themselves to be on the receiving end of any spending that might occur when someone, somewhere locks down what they mean.

It is not a good use of our time.

I won’t pretend that Michael Gove and I share a complete worldview.

But where we will come together is in the need to get things done.

Mayors – as Michael Bloomberg emphasises – must be pragmatic.

My hope is that the new Secretary of State grabs this uncertainty – this opportunity for reform – by the scruff of the neck.

Better still, that he works with Core Cities, the LGA City Regions Board, the M9, and the regional powerhouses to agree definitions, vision, and a plan.

Let me echo the challenge I gave to my own city: what could we not do if we agreed and aligned our priorities across all spheres of governance.

Key to unlocking this alignment will be overcoming the current model of funding for councils, that is too often akin to a game of scrambles.

In my school, when a kid had one sweet left and eight kids wanted it, rather than making a decision they might throw it in the air and shout scrambles.

Then we would all fight for it.

No rules – finger stamping allowed.

Survival of the fittest.

Government do the same.

There was recently an initiative against child hunger.

Government put up a few million pounds.

And asked for the whole country to fight for it.

Bristol came away – or at least our children came away – with nothing.

We had our fingers stamped on.

We lost at scrambles.

But even if we’d been successful, I would not be satisfied to feed Bristol’s children because, in winning the funding, we would have kept resources away from Plymouth’s children.

That is not a national strategy.

It is not a plan.

It is not leadership.

We need a win-win framework for national investment.

And too often the funding is short term and broken up between governments departments who do not seem coordinated.

It is down to local government with limited resource to fight for resources and play outside-half to a national machine that feels like a collection of disconnected pots of money bolted together.

We are additionally vulnerable to this because UK Cities have no way of directly raising revenue, other than the centrally controlled council tax.

Unlike cities around the world, we have no land taxes, no taxes at the point of sale.

All city-driven revenues end up with the Exchequer and only a small percentage makes its way back to cities as part of the annual handout.

In his day, Joseph Chamberlain didn’t wait for national government.

When elected Mayor of Birmingham, he quickly took control of the utilities and waterworks to improve health, environment, and public services.

Alongside the wider social reform agenda, these municipalisations saved lives and predated the post-war nationalisations which accompanied the establishment of our NHS.

Today cities are not waiting on government.

We need our national government.

We will be less than we could be if we fail to organise that national alignment.

But we are not making government enlightenment a prerequisite to our own action.

We have the M9.

Two weeks ago I was at the UK Core Cities’ annual away day.

We are working on a national offer to government on housing.

We want to take a solutions focussed approach, we all want to get homes built, so how do we work together to get the right kinds of homes in the right places?

Let’s plan together.

It’s a solutions focussed approach that I want to take into my new role as the Chair of the LGA City Regions Board.

Things can work well.

In 2019, Bristol, Newport, and Cardiff convened local authorities to form the Western Gateway.

We now stretch from Swindon to Swansea, Gloucester to North Somerset, with the core cities of Bristol and Cardiff at the centre.

We are the new powerhouse, a functional economic area of 4.4 million people that now sits alongside the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands engine.

The glimmer of light was, from a bottom-up creation, national government came forward to back it.

Sajid Javid and Alun Cairns were central to the launch.

It felt – and feels – like we are approaching a partnership.

Money was put into the secretariat and we’re working on an economic strategy.

I should mention, it was one of the initiatives Lord Kerslake was so helpful in getting off of the ground.

The Prime Minister has emphasised the role of local leadership as part of ‘levelling up’.

We accept the invitation, but:

Ensure cabinet members meet regularly with the Core Cities and the M9.

Ensure the LGA’s annual conference is anchored into the PM’s annual calendar, and cabinet members build strong relationships with the relevant LGA boards.

Meet with the powerhouses.

The opportunity for national alignment is there. Let’s take it.


Now I want to raise the international, because the importance of local and city leadership is not limited to national politics.

Global governance, with its over-reliance on national governments, is becoming increasingly threadbare.

Many of us know it to be true.

At the Global Parliament of Mayors in Durban, in 2019, Ed Johnson, the former Mayor of Asbury Park, said to me: “we have the best modern of global governance that the 1960s could ask for – the problem is, it is 2019.”

The COP26 climate conference in November threatens to further expose this.

My fear is that national governments will remain unable to move beyond high-profile, headline commitments to tackle the climate and ecological emergencies, and get to clear, measurable plans with proper funding and a clear timeline for delivery.

Cities consume around 70% of all energy and generate three-quarters of global carbon emissions.

These figures will only increase as cities continue to grow, with estimates that 68% of people will live in urban areas by 2050.

And it is in cities where most people will be affected by climate change, as heatwaves threaten residents in city centres, and rising sea levels and extreme rainstorms cause flash flooding.

At the same time, compact cities can offer more sustainable lifestyles.

Higher-density living can result in more efficient living and smaller carbon footprints.

A recent paper from the World Bank, Pancakes to Pyramids, set out how we should plan in and up, rather than sprawling out.

So surely cities will be central to any coherent strategy, and yet they are being passively excluded from COP26.

ICLEI – a global network of 2,500 local and regional governments committed to sustainable urban development – normally have over 150 passes.

So far, they have 20.

We cannot do this without cities.

As environmentalists and politicians race each other to the soonest target date for carbon neutrality, collectively, we are all only just starting to understand the cost of this ambition and what it takes to realise it.

That is where city leaders are crucial: we know what it takes on the ground.

Bristol is a member of the UK Core Cities, a network of Britain’s 11 largest urban areas.

Collectively, across our urban areas, we account for around 20 million people and 26% of national economic output.

Yet there has been no government effort to convene us to devise a coherent plan for decarbonisation.

This is a recipe for underperformance at the very moment humanity has no room for error.

And it is a mistake that is repeated time and again.

From migration to urban security, to pandemics to making corporations pay their taxes, the critical challenges we face today are increasingly post-national.

Solutions are out of reach of national governments working alone.

City governance could be a very effective political vehicle to operate in a post-national world.

In Bristol, we have seen how pandemic policy translates from the sterility of parliamentary debate into the reality of peoples’ lives in homes, schools, and workplaces.

We know that Brexit, a product of Westminster’s politics, is affecting our social-care sector and food supply, and will continue to create challenges in 2022.

Again, cities aren’t waiting. We are organising ourselves.

More than 300 international city networks have already emerged.

Some are geographically organised, such as Core Cities, Eurocities, and the US Conference of Mayors.

Some are organised around common issues, such as the Mayors Migration Council or the C40’s Climate Leadership Group.

Others, such as the Global Parliament of Mayors, are trying to strengthen cities’ role within national and international governance structures.

In 2018 I spoke at the United Nations during the final negotiations of its Global Compact on Migration.

As the first mayor to be invited to speak, I argued that cities should be given a stronger, more formal role in setting migration policy.

Most migrants leave cities, transit through them, travel to them, and return to them — including Bristol.

As with climate, cities can provide leadership and expertise.

The UN’s compact had direct consequences for the lives of Bristol people, many of whom, like me, are first- or second-generation migrants.

When I was first elected in 2016, I did not anticipate how central international leadership would be to my mayoralty.

But it is a natural extension of the argument for the devolution of more powers to individual cities.

It is not enough to be able to shape what happens within the city.

Serving Bristol means taking account of, and helping to shape, the national and international context and forces that affect life in the city.

None of this is a wish for, or prediction of, the demise of national governments.

Rather it is an argument for the missing piece of the puzzle in national and international governance.

National governments will need to make space, and international organisations will need to redirect much of their energy and finance through cities.

My colleague on the World Economic Forum’s network of Global Future Councils, the scholar and writer Gregg Clark, says that we are living in the fifth decade of the century of the city.

It is of critical importance, for all our sakes, that national and international governance catches up with that fact.

Making city leaders equal partners in shaping national and international policy will maximise our chances of tackling the major challenges of our time.

World Tourism Day

Today’s guest blog is from Kathryn Davis,
Director of Tourism at Visit West

The United Nations World Tourism Organization recognises 27th September as World Tourism Day. Tourism is one of the world’s most important economic sectors, responsible for approximately 1 in every 10 jobs globally.

Tourism Bristol’s Visitor Economy

In 2019, Bristol’s visitor economy was estimated at £1.2 billion, supporting thousands of jobs across the hospitality, cultural, retail, entertainment, nightlife, and transport sectors. 

Visitors come to Bristol for many reasons. We know that international visitors are generally split equally into three groups – for a holiday, to visit friends and relatives, or for business. Of course, often it will be a combination of these, but we know that Bristol is a rising star. We received an award from National Geographic readers in 2018 as the global rising star destination.

What motivates people to visit is fascinating. Visit Bristol has thousands of pages of information to help people plan their stay, discover what’s on and find inspiration. The most popular pages include Bristol’s Street Art, especially the Banksy Walking Tour, Christmas events, family travel and food and drink, as well as what’s on.

As well as the economic value of visitor spend, the soft power of tourism is critical.  Pre-pandemic we would host around 200 media a year, from across the world, generating hundreds of articles inspiring visitors to come and discover what Bristol has to offer. There’s something for everyone in Bristol, from our food and drink scene (see the latest edition of Food and Travel Magazine with 11 pages of Bristol content), to family breaks to festivals to conferences to LGBTQ+ stays

Bristol has been recognised through a series of awards from Group Travel Magazine (Best X destination) to the World Food Travel Association (best Culinary Destination).  It’s not just the city that is a winner, our own convention bureau team are currently shortlisted for two major industry awards, recognising their outstanding contribution to the industry, plus the ‘Bristol from Home’ campaign delivered through the early days of coronavirus, was recognised as by Rough Guides as one of the best in the world.

The Visit West team deliver campaigns and content through our Visit Bristol channels, with millions of visits to the Visit Bristol website every year providing ideas and inspiration through social media.

It’s also important to remember that tourism doesn’t just happen. It is the result of co-ordinated work taking place across years, building relationships with the global travel industry, and taking Bristol to the world. There is a vast network of decision makers and buyers who we work with either independently or in partnership with others. After winning the bid to host the UKInbound convention, in 2020 Bristol hosted around 300 of the key decision makers in the industry, a very significant opportunity for the city. What we didn’t know, was that this was to be the last live industry event for almost 18 months.

The impact of Coronavirus

The impact of the pandemic has hit every world tourism economy, with cities hit hardest of all. Locally, we have seen businesses close and people leave the industry.  Some of these businesses have been partners with us for 20 years and so it has been devastating both professionally and personally.

While businesses may seem busy, it is worth remembering that some have taken on a phenomenal amount of debt to keep going. The industry has a huge challenge in staffing, with hundreds of vacancies meaning some businesses are unable to trade at capacity, so making recovery even more of a challenge.

Our work changes overnight from sending out emails with campaign opportunities to the latest government advice and information on claiming grants. We supported other sectors looking for accommodation for key workers. Actual visits became virtual visits.

What now?

For many, the summer has been a time for cautious optimism. However, consumer confidence is still rebuilding.

The industry has been incredible in its response to visitor safety, and so while things still are a little different, the steps they have taken have been enormous. Around 100 signed up to VisitBritain’s ‘We’re Good to Go’ scheme, demonstrating their commitment to customers.

We are just starting to see the return of our international visitors. We were able to ensure that our first US media trip was able to join a hot air balloon ride at the extended celebration of the Balloon Fiesta. We have our first trade mission next month. Normality seems to be returning.

While you may be thinking about your next trip away, remember to support your local tourism and hospitality businesses. They need you. And there is no better place to visit.

Bristol sings!

Today’s guest blog is from Val Williams, alto in Bristol Choral Society

Bristol has many reasons to be proud of its amateur music scene, but this is our chance to express that pride in a public vote.

Bristol Choral Society and our musical director, Hilary Campbell, have many reasons to celebrate right now. The most important is that we have been shortlisted for the Inspiration Award from the Royal Philharmonic Society. This is a bit like a BAFTA for musicians! And Hilary really is an inspiration to the many singers, friends and other musicians who support the choir today. This is a public vote, so it would be great if all of Bristol could get behind its choir by voting before the deadline of September 30th!

There is a vast range of choirs and other music-making groups in Bristol. Despite the pandemic, many of us have kept going and still fill our city with beautiful sounds. But none is as established as Bristol Choral Society, founded in 1889, and still going strong today.

An inspirational leader

What has Hilary meant for Bristol over the pandemic? Social isolation and ‘keeping safe’ have been the mantras for well over a year now, and the emotional outlets provided by music making have been limited. There may not be much that singers can do by rehearsing alone in their garden sheds! Members of Bristol Choral Society however soon took up opportunities to rehearse, to learn new music, and to keep meeting week after week. We have hardly missed one week in the past 18 months, and the choir rehearsals have been a real anchor in the lives of over ninety singers who regularly joined in by zoom.

We probably all know by now that joint music making online is almost impossible. But Hilary still found ways of making this experience real. Although singers were on ‘mute’, it really did feel that Hilary could hear us, as she commented on our singing, praised our enthusiasm, or suggested better ways of tackling the dots. Supported by Steve Kings, our amazing accompanist and deputy, Hilary forged ahead with her creativity and musical leadership. She engaged professional singers to make guide tracks for the choir to follow, and she even arranged for the choir to tune in on live rehearsals which she set up with professional singers in London.

As tenor Julian Rivers comments:
“In a time of unprecedented difficulty for musicians, Hilary responded with unbounded creativity and optimism. Week by week her cheerful energy and encouragement kept us singing, exploring new repertoire, improving technique, and constantly reminding us of our shared hope that we would in time experience real choral singing once again. She has been a model of courage in adversity and a bright point during the dark weeks of lockdown, worthy of wide public recognition.”

Choir celebrations and honours

It was only 18 months ago, but in that other world before the pandemic, the choir recorded its first ever CD in over 125 years! Along with Bristol Youth Choir, Hilary led the singing at St George’s Bristol in January 2020. Little did we know that this would be almost the last chance for rubbing shoulders and actually singing together. But the CD was released during the pandemic, and has been a great success!

The CD features female composers, such as Judith Weir, many of whom have been overlooked over the years. Diversity has also been the keyword in other choir projects during the past year. For instance, the choir went ahead with a planned Christmas carol competition in December 2020, where new composers were invited to submit a carol. Over 70 compositions were received from all over the world, and were whittled down to a shortlist of five. Last autumn again we could not meet in person, but choir members submitted tracks for a virtual recording of each carol.

The competition was eventually won by Pam Slater, a retired music teacher. The carol project was named in memory of Mary Otty, daughter of Sue Otty, a well known local musician and choir member. And we now have confirmation that we did them proud, since the project has just been recognised with another award in the ‘Making Music’ ceremony on September 8th.

In fact, in an exceptional evening for the choir, we also learnt that Hilary had succeeded in winning the ‘best vocal music director’ award from Making Music. So now we are geared up for a hat trick of three awards, with the RPS award open for public vote until the end of September.

What next for Bristol Choral Society?

Come and see Hilary Campbell in action and hear Bristol Choral on November 6th, as well as the return of Handel’s Messiah on December 11th – both in Bristol Cathedral. And thank you for voting for us!