My letter to Bristol

Today marks a significant day for Bristol.

Twelve months ago, Bristol registered its first confirmed case of COVID-19 as the city began its response to the pandemic that has swept the globe.

Since Wednesday 3 March 2020, your efforts to protect lives, help the vulnerable, limit the spread of the virus and support one and other has been a source of city pride.

During that time over half a million tests have been taken with 29,500 positive cases being recorded.

This pandemic has affected our lives in different ways and tested every feature of our city from business to education, to transport to even elections.  It has been extremely challenging for all of us, but hit our most vulnerable communities hardest. We know that the underlying drivers of inequality will worsen. But we will do all we can to win support to protect jobs and urge government to front-load investment in green infrastructure to generate jobs and decarbonise the economy.

Despite these challenges we have faced, Bristol has responded and is rebuilding. Through a One City approach we are working together to organise the city to take challenges on. We have an incredible voluntary sector that has rallied around to support our most vulnerable residents. Through Can Do Bristol we’ve had 4,000 people pledge to help in their communities, and around 3,000 vulnerable residents have been supported with things like befriending, collecting shopping and prescriptions and dog walking.

We are all missing out on the things we love, and many of us have lost people we love as well. Sadly, 563 people in Bristol have tragically lost their lives to this virus over the last year. Each and every one of them will be remembered and to everyone who is grieving, I send my deepest condolences. I thank the faith leaders across the city for coming forward to reach out and support those would have had to face loss alone.

Our community testing programme over the last twelve months has seen over half a million tests taken, through rapid testing at workplaces and symptomatic testing at established Local Testing Sites. Now, as we look ahead to cautiously easing out of national lockdown restrictions from Monday 8 March, I ask you to be patient.

I know many people are looking forward to the coming months where national restrictions will begin to ease, particularly those who have sadly been unable to work and all of us who are desperate to see friends and family.

The speed of the roll-out of the national vaccination programme is an incredible testament to our NHS and healthcare colleagues and provides an important vision of hope for us. I’m pleased to see that over 100,000 people in Bristol alone have already had one dose of the vaccination. We will continue to support healthcare colleagues in this successful role out.

However, we must not throw twelve months of effort away now. We want this unlocking to be for the final time, no more lockdowns and no further restrictions. Achieving this is our personal responsibility. It is the actions of the individual that will determine whether this truly is the last lockdown needed.

We must take each step of this roadmap to easing restrictions one at a time, and only once the data and the impact of unlocking tells us it’s safe to do so, take another step to getting back to what we love.

If you need support, know that we are here for you. Our We Are Bristol helpline is open seven days a week on 0800 691 0184.

Thank you for all you are doing and have done over the last year – we will get through this together.

We Work for Everyone

Today’s guest blog is from Councillor Helen Holland, Labour Councillor for Hartcliffe and Withywood and Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care.

I was chatting to a local resident over the weekend who was telling me that his job disappeared at the beginning of the pandemic, but that he is now working as a Blood Delivery Driver. Then on one of my regular walks the other day, I saw an advertising hoarding with the fabulous #changelives campaign from BrunelCare, showing Ellie, one of their new recruits who has gone from Cabin Crew to careworker.

Two things occurred to me, one, that Covid has made everyone see what many of us already knew, that jobs in Health and Social Care are absolutely vital to us all, to our communities and to our economy, and secondly, that changing career, sometimes of necessity, sometimes by choice, really can open your eyes to new possibilities.

Working with our care providers, training organisations like the City of Bristol College, Skills for Care and the trade unions, we are determined to raise the profile of occupations in care, and make sure that we have the best workforce that we can as we move towards the post-Corona Virus world. Through our commissioning framework we are embedding our commitment to better terms and conditions for careworkers, and making sure that employees have access to training.

We also are working to strengthen community organisations who often provide the glue – through local activities, things like walking groups, choirs, knit and natter  groups  – that stick neighbourhoods together, and keep residents from isolation, and able to live in their own homes for longer.

I want to see a pathway too for people who find that they love working with people in those local organisations to open the door to care work, as one thing that is now more obvious to some, is that whatever advances there are in ‘tech enabled care’ we will always need people in these vital services.

It has been so rewarding to see that we have been able to attract more people into home care, and into social work, over the last year, and we want to see that continue.

While I am writing, I also want to mention the “We work for Everyone” project Ways to Work website for which the City Council with the other West of England authorities  have won £2.2m  from European Social Funds, and £1.2m from  WECA to deliver employment and training opportunities for people with learning disabilities and Autism.

Having worked in this field for many years myself, I am absolutely passionate about this project, and the chance for people to fulfil their potential through work. It is shocking that nationally only 5.7% of people with a learning disability are in work and we are going to do all we can to change that. We have some fantastic organisations in the city who already have a great deal of experience of doing this, with some brilliant results. I want to draw that experience into this project, to really make the best of the additional money. With navigators to support the work, we also want to hear from businesses who are keen to give everyone these opportunities, so please get in touch.

Get vaccinated

Today’s guest blog is from Ade Williams, Superintendent Pharmacist at Bedminster Pharmacy.

On 28th of January, Bedminster Pharmacy started providing COVID vaccinations at the Methodist Church on British Road. Our communities goodwill and generosity carried us through the door,  literally – especially after logistical challenges with our NHS supplies. 

Our team of volunteers, reminders of the great privilege of bringing this project into our special community. The good news is that the national vaccination programme is moving at great pace. People over 65 and those who are clinically extremely vulnerable are now being sent invitations to book online using the NHS website or calling 119. 

How quickly does the vaccine work? 

Protection starts 12-14 days after the first dose.  The second dose is crucial to get the best level of protection and longer-lasting protection, so it’s vital to come back for your second dose.

Which vaccine will I get and which is better?

You cannot choose which vaccine to have, so it’s crucial to have the vaccine you are offered. Remember whichever vaccine you are offered, has been shown to be safe and work well at preventing disease from the virus. The researches looking at effectiveness have measured them in different ways, so it isn’t necessarily helpful to compare them like for like. 

Does the vaccine contain animal products?

No. They do not contain any ingredients derived from pigs, cows or other animals.

I’m allergic to penicillin – can I have the coronavirusvaccine?

Yes, all of the available vaccines are safe if you are allergic to penicillin.

I’ve already had Covid-19, do I still need to get vaccinated?

Yes, it’s really important to get the vaccine, even if you’ve already had Covid-19. You may have some level of immunity if you’ve had the disease, but this varies and may not last long. 

Will I be able to pass on the virus to others if I’ve had the vaccine?

We don’t yet know for sure, so even after vaccination, it remains essential to follow guidelines around social distancing, hand washing and other guidance to stop the spread of coronavirus. You will also still need to self-isolate if you have symptoms or have been in contact with someone who has.

How much does the vaccine cost?

The vaccine is offered free on the NHS. It is not available privately so you can’t pay to get it sooner. Don’t fall for any scams offering it for cash.

With a 10-minute appointment journey including 3 minute contact time, we did not expect to experience such a flood of human experiences: birthday zoom calls, family pictures, tears, hugs and relief. Reminders that for many of the most vulnerable, the jab trip is their first outside for months.

Thanks to the collective effort and sacrifice making this possible. Every completed vaccination helps break down barriers, tackling hesitancy, bringing closer a time to meet with family and friends. The Bedminster Pharmacy’s ambition is to work with others; our GP surgeries and other NHS Clinicians to make it sooner. When your time comes, we will be ready for you too.

Rewilding College Green

To celebrate the one-year anniversary of climate activist Greta Thunberg’s visit to Bristol, this weekend the Bristol and Bath Parks Foundation are announcing their Rewilding Project for the enhancement of nature at College Green. These plans are only possible because of the £15,575 raised by the public after the Fridays for Future demonstration. The Bristol and Bath Parks Foundation became custodians of this fund, which is now being brought to life in partnership with Bristol Cathedral, Avon Wildlife Trust, Bristol Youth Strike 4 Climate and Bristol City Council.

College Green’s lawn was successfully reseeded over the last spring, so now the foundation plan to roll out their phased approach for further improving the green space. Working within the spring and winter planting seasons, their plan will encourage pollinating insects to thrive and plant life to absorb carbon emissions in the centre of the city.

Phase one, which will be initiated in April, involves creating seven wildflower meadows on a patch of rarely used lawn adjoining Bristol Cathedral. The meadows will be a planted with a mix of plant plugs from the Avon Wildlife Trust’s wildflower nursery and quick growing meadow turf. We can expect the meadows to flower two to three months after planting and offer colourful seasonal displays.

An information board explaining the importance of the meadows will be written and designed by Bristol Youth Strike 4 Climate, the youth-led organisation who arranged Greta Thunberg’s visit to Bristol last year. The site will continue to be maintained by the council with support from local volunteers. Further plans for phase one include planting a native hedgerow, bulbs and flowering trees in the autumn months.

The council is proud to be part of the work being undertaken, after declaring an Ecological Emergency last year in response to the escalating threats to wildlife and our ecosystems. While the coronavirus pandemic has rightly dominated the local and national conversation, the threat to the species which inhabit Bristol hasn’t gone away. In addition, the benefits of a sustainable, nature-rich city to the everyday lives of Bristolians are undeniable after the events of a year which has seen most people with even more time to enjoy Bristol’s many parks and green spaces. This project demonstrates that all of us – from individuals to large city organisations – can take effective actions which protect both people and planet.   

Artist’s impression – Bristol and Bath Parks Foundation

LGBT History Month

Today’s guest blog comes from members of Bristol City Council’s Staff LGBT+ group.

Community histories, much like local histories have a huge importance. A careful and accurate look at events which have directly affected a community, as well as a record of its collective achievements and success, provides two really important things. For those in the community, it gives a sense of origin, vital for a sense of belonging; and a sense of worth that is the foundation of self-esteem and values. The second is also a connection point for allies to engage with the community, the place where by learning the history they can strengthen their support and connection with the community. 

I’ve been very careful so far not to mention which community. I think what’s true is true for all communities; be they defined by location, or common interest. But particularly those communities whose voices are unrepresented. When you’re removed from history, it’s implied you have no voice in the present. The removal of local galleries, museums and libraries would cause outrage. Rightly so, but their necessity is the same necessity for both LGBT History month and of course Black History Month. 

History isn’t just an archive of facts and dates. Grievances, achievements and celebration. It’s living, incomplete and a vital connection point. When you watch a TV programme like It’s A Sin, Gentleman Jack or Pose; you can’t treat it as a history lesson per se, but it is the beginning of a conversation, maybe even an exploration into stories of people and groups you couldn’t otherwise know about. Stories that will hugely benefit us all. History month reminds us that it is not one simple narrative either but an intricate and complicated web of stories that overlap and diverge in furious chaotic patterns. That can be scary, I think that’s why the rise of nationalism here and abroad has been so effective. It only allows for one narrow brittle strand of history. That’s why our histories deserve their months – not because for the other eleven months we should be quiet and just recite the kings and queens of England – but to remind us to diverge from our mainstream and explore other communities and cultures. To find out the stories which didn’t make it into your Year 9 history lesson or The Crown. So my encouragement to you, is not to wait until it lands in your lap but go exploring and find out more about the people around you. 

Did you know that The Radnor Hotel on St Nicholas Street which opened in the 1920s was the first known gay pub in Bristol? 

Or, did you know that after the concentration camps were liberated in 1945, some men were re-imprisoned because homosexuality was still a crime? 

Did you know that Ireland was the first country in the world to hold a referendum, and collectively as a nation vote for marriage equality? 

Did you know that the Bristol Lesbian and Gay Switchboard was set up by Dale Wakefield in Totterdown in 1975?

You can find more information about local LGBT+ history at Outstories Bristol.

Bristol Pride marches through the city centre. Photo by Dan Regan. Via Visit Bristol

Cities and the Path to Net-Zero

On Wednesday, I joined a webinar organised by the Committee on Climate Change to discuss their recent report into the role local authorities need to play in delivering the government’s ambition to achieve “net zero” carbon emissions. The Committee is an independent, statutory body that advises the UK government on progress made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and on preparing for the impacts of climate change.

I have shared before that delivering carbon reductions in cities is crucial if we are to reduce harmful emissions and mitigate the impacts of climate change. So I am pleased that the Committee’s report recognises the central role local authorities have to play in reducing carbon emissions, highlighting that local government has power and influence over roughly a third of emissions in their local areas.

The report contains a number of recommendations for local authorities from developing climate action plans with delivery projects, improving knowledge of Green Finance mechanisms, and communication and engagement with local communities. As the first local authority to declare a Climate Emergency, I’m pleased that Bristol features throughout the report and a number of initiatives we are leading on like City Leap and the One City Climate Strategy are identified as good practice for other authorities to emulate.

I shared in the webinar, however, that if we’re to be successful in our ambition to make Bristol carbon neutral and climate resilient by 2030, we need urgent action and partnership from national government. Decarbonisation requires more than political will alone, it needs long term and reliable finance. We need billions of pounds of financial investment if we are to decarbonise the systems people rely on to heat their homes, power businesses and travel around the city and power. Unfortunately, more than a decade of austerity has stretched the backroom capacity in local authorities in crucial departments like planning, procurement and legal. These functions rarely make headlines, but without them it makes it difficult – if not impossible – to deliver the scale and pace of change we need.

This year provides a number of important opportunities for government to deliver this support, not least in November as the UK hosts the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26). This cannot simply be a platform for policy pronouncements by national governments – cities and local leaders need to be brought into decision-making processes, backed up with sustainable and innovative finance that supports cities and local government to deliver. Even more immediately, as attention turns to next week’s budget, I reiterate our call for the government to frontload green infrastructure investment such as, for example, retrofitting homes. This can ensure that we can deliver carbon reductions as part of our economic recovery from Covid-19, delivering social justice and environmental justice together.

If government follows Bristol’s lead in embedding the delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals in our economic recovery, we can ensure that we rebuild an economy that is climate resilient and more resistant to the financial and social upheavals that we have experienced over the past 12 months. We look forward to working together with local government, national government, and networks of cities across the world to deliver on that ambition.

You can watch the full event on YouTube below, and download slides from CCC’s website here.

Rough sleeping down by 80%

Figures published today suggest that the number of people sleeping rough in Bristol has fallen by around 80% in just over a year.

Our staff and city partners have, in unprecedentedly difficult circumstances, helped around 1,400 people in Bristol who were either rough sleeping or homeless into emergency and further accommodation. Our wrap-around services and support plans are under regular review, so that everyone has options to leave the streets.

The Council has confirmed that 21 people were recorded as sleeping rough in January 2021. This follows 50 people being recorded as sleeping rough during the city’s annual count in November, compared to 98 a year before. While this progress is much-needed, and a real testament to the hard work of everyone involved, there is still more to do. Homelessness is a complex issue but the simple truth remains that 21 people sleeping rough is 21 too many.

I set out more about how we are working to ensure that nobody is left behind, and everybody has somewhere safe to stay, in an article for the LGA Labour Group.

With more than 1,000 people currently living in emergency accommodation in Bristol, it is crucial that we continue to build on the solid foundations of some 9,000 new homes since 2016. Our thousands-strong pipeline of new council homes in place to continue to build a better Bristol.

If you are concerned about someone who is sleeping rough, you can make a referral via Streetlink.

Bristol’s balanced budget

My speech today at Budget Full Council, which begins from around 6:30 into the livestream.

I am delighted to bring yet another no cuts budget to council,

It underpins our aspirations for Bristol as we plan our recovery from Covid and the delivery over the medium to long term that will enable Bristol build back as a city of hope where nobody is left behind.

This is again a balanced budget.

Our general Fund net revenue budget outlines spending of £424 million on our key services. We also bring an ambitious capital programme to 2025 with a gross value of £900m – with a strategic partner now in place, we’re in an even stronger place to realise our capital ambitions for Bristol.

The principles that underpin what we do will remain: Inclusion and Sustainability

And we have put the UN Sustainable Development Goals at the heart of what we do.

I congratulate the finance team and Craig Cheney for their work. Covid, Brexit and Austerity have come together to incredible challenges in which circumstances have been created in which: 

demands for services risen, funding for councils has not kept pace with increasing demand, and council revenue has been undermined.

On top of this, it’s not only our front facing services that have been hit but  the back room capacity – our lawyers, project managers, accountants – has been hit hard as they have worked to manage all of this. 

I think on what we inherited, the £30m hole in the budget that Steve Bundred described as a the result of a: 

“sequence of events [that] represents a collective failure of leadership within the Council for which several people, including elected politicians, bear responsibility.”

And today we bring a £420m budget 99.5% of which is being accepted without change. There is no question that fiscal responsibility has been delivered.

I wanted to take the opportunity to make a few additional remarks.

During the debate about whether Bristol should take on the mayoral model, John Savage described this council as an old Victorian fairground machine. A complex mix of busy cogs, chains and bells that – for a while at least – is fascinating to look at.

It took a lot of building, and requires lots on maintenance. But it didn’t actually do anything.

In moving this budget, we are laying out the future of the city, and the role of this organisation in the city. We must remember what we are here for. We are here to deliver, to get things done.

I see a flurry of additional meetings being called – two extraordinary full council meetings, 4 call ins, extra HR committee which is more about using the internal processes to clog things up and make some noise that will win a headline than it is about securing delivery for Bristol.

It was the three time Conservative Prime minster Edward Stanley – the 14th Earl of Derby, who said “The duty of an Opposition is very simple – to oppose everything and propose nothing”.

That may have worked well for the aristocracy in the 19th century. But it won’t work for Bristol today. The City needs and deserves more from those elected to this chamber. 

That’s why we have focussed on delivery. This budget gets the basic right

In this budget we prioritise…

·         Council house rent freeze

·         The only city to have a Fully funded Council tax reduction scheme, supports over 25,000 households

·         £26m investment in SEN (Special Educational Needs) over four years,

·         £132m for housing delivery over five years

·         £75m for transport and highways. 

This budget builds on our record of delivery, including:

 Homes

  • Building 9,000 new homes including new affordable homes;
  • Whith schemes ongoing across the city including Hengrove Park, Bonnington Walk, Zed Pods and Launchpad. Finishing touches to Ashton rise.
  • HMO regulation and Landlord licensing 

Economy

  • Nearly 12,000 work experiences through Bristol WORKS, including for young people from deprived areas and/or with SEN;
  • Secured £12m for Bottle Yard Studios expansion;
  • Made Bristol an accredited Living wage city – leading as a living wage employer ourselves.
  • Ban the Box, Stepping Up and now Kickstart programmes to drive diversity and inclusion

Education and Families

  • £26m Investment this month in special educational needs, amid a national crisis
  • Kept our children’s centres open and adopted a Children’s Charter
  • Creating more school places, with 87% getting their first choice primary place;
  • The Healthy Holidays campaign feeding Bristol’s kids during school holidays and free breakfast clubs with Feeding Bristol
  • Won World Health Organisation Age Friendly City status;

Environment

  • Secured the UK’s largest bio-gas bus order;
  • Delivering a net-zero council by 2025, reducing emissions by 9% in 2019
  • community wind turbines in Avonmouth
  • A Big Tidy to deep clean 700 streets last year and the best recycling rate in the country’s core cities;

When you take a minute to look at it, it is surprising how much has been achieved in 5 years. 

Now let’s remember the Real Challenge:

Keeping people safe from covid and limiting its opportunity to mutate

Economic recovery from the covid depression

The underlying drivers of inequality will be strengthened – those most marginal to the economy will be hit first and hardest and least well placed to benefit from the economic pick up. 

We have our ongoing housing crisis, we have a looming wave of mental health need and an urgent need to launch our educational recovery plan.

Only this morning Helen and I met with city partners to plan how we will overcome the March 31st funding cliff edge for people with No Recourse to Public Funds.

And we have to meet these challenges in the context of climate and ecological emergencies. That means minimising even eliminating the price the planet pays for us tackling these challenges for a city population predicted to grow by nearly £100,000 over the next 25 years. That takes a city redesign and rebuild that runs into the billions of pounds.

That’s where we need to remember that we will be at our most useful in seeing, defining, understanding, and directing our energies toward these challenges that Bristol and the world faces, rather toward small swipes that may or not win temporary – if superficial – headlines.

This budget is about getting the basics right. Putting us on a sure footing, supporting the city’s vulnerable and investing in our collective ambition for the future.

Estimates are that at this time 12 local authorities on the edge of financial collapse. Despite the circumstances we came into, we are not one of them.

Fairtrade Fortnight

Today’s guest blog is from Joe Fortune, General Secretary of the Co-operative Party.

We in the co-operative movement have an amazing story to tell about our adoption and leadership within UK Fairtrade over many decades. Over the years, I have spent time looking back through old copies of Co-operative Party and movement pamphlets and articles, which all lay out in black and white (and it was black and white, no colour printing!) the efforts and commitment of those activists we sit on the shoulders of. However, the Co-operative Party and movement’s commitment to Fairtrade is not, and must never be, something we only look back on. It must be something we live, day in and day out. 

Fairtrade Fortnight is an opportunity to renew that zeal, and to spread the message of hope and optimism which characterises Fairtrade. Fairtrade is our values and principles in practice. Within it lies the essence of our approach to politics and society. I’m proud that the last year has seen the Co-operative Party bring practical campaigning weight to the continued fight for Fairtrade. 

This year, our representatives in Westminster have pushed for Fairtrade to be properly considered through new trade deals. Our Parliamentary Group Chair and Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, Preet Gill, has led the charge for proper financial support for this country’s international development efforts, and for a focus to be on co-operative development. Preet also led our efforts to persuade a major chocolate retailer to reverse its decision to walk away from the use of Fairtrade. This effort saw tens of thousands of people join the campaign and re-affirmed, in my mind, our movement’s unwavering support for the efforts of the Fairtrade Foundation.  

We all hold consumer power in the products we choose and support each day. I would encourage everyone to exercise this power to choose those products and lines which hold the Fairtrade mark. Still today, we uphold the historic co-operative movement commitment to Fairtrade. We are proud of the efforts of our retail co-operatives and others who continue to lead the way and champion the proliferation of Fairtrade in this country and around the world. 

Find out more about Fairtrade Fortnight, this year’s focus on climate change, and the work of the Fairtrade Foundation here: Fairtrade Fortnight | Fairtrade Foundation

Ashton Court

Bristolians agree that parks have increasingly been a lifeline for our wellbeing during lockdown. This has been keenly felt at the iconic Ashton Court Estate. This winter, the estate has experienced record numbers of visitors for the time of year, when the usually low visitor numbers would allow the ecology of the site to rest and recuperate. By calling an Ecological Emergency, we recognised that the wellbeing of nature is vital to the health of the city and must be protected. That is why over the coming spring, visitors to Ashton Court Estate can expect their trip to be affected by essential conservation measures.

The estate is populated by breeding skylarks, a small brown bird which marks its territory with a spectacular flight display. They make their nests amongst the grass on the plateau at the top of the estate, near the Clifton Lodge car park. Nationally, skylark numbers have dropped by over 60% in the last 40 years. Due to pressure from increasing visitor numbers and dogs roaming off the lead, the skylark population at the estate has declined in recent years.  Without urgent action, this species could be lost. To conserve this species locally they need to remain undisturbed at this time of year whilst they are beginning to nest. 

The plateau area is also home to an important population of green-winged orchids, as well as hundreds of common spotted orchids.  The green-winged orchids begin to flower from late April, whilst the common spotted orchids flower from the start of June.  However, over the course of the winter and early spring the orchids are in danger of being damaged by the trampling and compaction of the soil from walkers. The orchids have been put at higher risk over lockdown by increased visitor numbers on the estate.

Visitors to Ashton Court Estate will no doubt be fans of the red deer park, and keenly aware of its closure for the health of the deer since November. In order for the deer park to reopen, we cannot continue to put the wildlife at risk for the sake of our own enjoyment. During the birthing season, which runs from May to July, it is especially vital to keep to the footpaths and keep dogs on leads. It’s important not to touch, feed, or photograph the deer at close range; doing this teaches them to approach humans, which is dangerous for all visitors.

To protect these species for future generations, the Parks & Green Spaces Department has roped off sections of the plateau as temporary conservation sites. Visitors are being asked to stick to the paths and keep their dogs on a short lead around the plateau. The red deer park will remain closed for now and reopening will be reviewed after lockdown when footfall lessens.

The situation at Ashton Court is just one example of the fine balance we have to get in protecting our city’s biodiversity as we face an ecological emergency, while also keeping our parks open for all to enjoy, as they were intended. We can all show our appreciation for this beloved green space by playing our part in protecting its unique ecology for years to come.