A Safety Net For All

On Wednesday 27th May the Prime Minister appeared before the Liaison Committee in Parliament. He was asked a question by Stephen Timms MP about the destitution faced by migrants who have lost their income due to COVID and are prevented from accessing benefits by the ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ status. In response, the Prime Minister promised to look into this, saying “people who’ve worked hard for this country, who live and work here, should have support of one kind or another”. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nvc326V6vMI for the full exchange.

I have therefore written the following letter to the PM welcoming this promise and encouraging him to suspend or scrap the NRPF status.

Dear Prime Minister,

I am writing to you following your appearance at the Liaison Committee this week, where you were asked about support for those living and working in the UK who are prevented from accessing welfare support because of the ‘no recourse to public funds’ (NRPF) condition.

In response to a question posed by Stephen Timms MP about a family who are struggling during lockdown because of the NRPF condition, you rightly said that ‘people who have worked hard for this country, who live and work here, should have support of one kind or another’. You committed to find out how many people are in this position and what your government can do to help. I would like to formally welcome this commitment and highlight the calls of city and local government leaders who have encouraged your Government to consider suspending, or scrapping, the No Recourse to Public Funds status.

Bristolians with NRPF contribute to the welfare system through taxes but are not able to access the support they need when they lose their income. Many have built lives in the UK over the course of many years, and a significant number have children who were born and raised here. However, when they need support, their children are not eligible for provisions like free school meals. Survivors of domestic abuse with NRPF also face additional barriers to fleeing and seeking support. As I’ve said publicly on many occasions[1], we see people who come to Bristol from abroad as significant assets to our city, and we need to do everything we can to provide them with the framework to make their contribution, including giving them access to the safety net we all rely on.

This is particularly urgent given the current context of global pandemic. Across local government, there has been a collective call to suspend NRPF to enable people to access the support they need and, crucially, to help stop the spread of COVID-19 among those who need to self-isolate safely without losing income. In Bristol we are currently housing approximately 280 people in emergency accommodation due to the COVID crisis, and more than 60 of these people have NRPF status. We know through our services across city and partners from the voluntary sector that there are many more families and people affected by NRPF status.

We have set up a special ‘One City’ taskforce to identify and support people on pathways from this emergency accommodation into more sustainable long-term housing. This is a unique opportunity to end rough sleeping in Bristol, but it is significantly hampered by the NRPF status which dramatically restricts the options for those people.

NRPF status will also be an unnecessary drag on our inclusive economic recovery. I have publicly set out my ambitions to help rebuild Bristol’s economy in a way that tackles inequality and exclusion, and to create a city where nobody is left behind. But for those with NRPF status who have lost or who will lose their jobs, the barriers to recovery will be that much higher without access to Universal Credit or in-work benefits that the rest of us take for granted.   

The response to the COVID emergency has shown that when we all pull together as one society we can achieve extraordinary things. Scrapping the NRPF status would be a powerful symbol that the Government is committed to ensuring that we really are ‘all in this together’ and that our recovery from COVID will be on the basis of fundamental equality, inclusion and fairness.


[1] https://www.corecities.com/publications/it-time-lifttheban

A City of Hope

Today we have launched ‘City of Hope’, a #WeAreBristol film to poignantly mark the Covid-19 pandemic as the city begins its journey to recovery. The film brings to life the words of City Poet Vanessa Kisuule, who I commissioned to capture the feelings and spirit of the city during this time.

The pandemic has not only created physical barriers between us, it has brought forward feelings of fear, uncertainty and isolation. This film acts as a reminder of the rich and varied communities and cultures that make Bristol so special, as we all stand together in the face of crisis. It is that spirit which gives us hope for the future.

The next stage of the city’s recovery is crucial but also daunting for many people. We need to rebuild businesses, confidence, and all change how we live to keep ourselves, our families and our communities safe. It is more important than ever that we act with respect and tolerance, and don’t forget the kindness and resilience we have shown the past few months.

Watch the film now and share with friends and family to help us spread this message of hope.

Kindness goes a long way

Today’s blog post comes from Councillor Asher Craig, Deputy Mayor and Cabinet Member for Communities, Equalities and Public Health.

In the last few months our lives have drastically changed due to the coronavirus pandemic. We are all adapting to a new way of living and working, whilst coming to terms with the demands on our physical and mental health.

We are now approaching the end of national Mental Health Awareness Week, and this year’s theme is ‘kindness’. It is something we all do and show in Bristol, quite naturally. Especially in the last eight weeks, we have seen our city and its people adapting together to overcome one of the biggest global challenges we have faced.

As I reflect, I am reminded of the many actions you have taken in response to the outbreak. Every day we hear stories of countless acts of kindness and generosity, such as volunteering, donations of food, books and much more; all to help others through this challenge. But it’s also clear that coronavirus will continue to impact our lives in many ways for some time to come. We are in a period of major change and during times like this we all need to continue to look out for each other, and be kind to ourselves.

We are working closely with health partners to understand the impact that coronavirus has had on the mental health and wellbeing of our citizens, so that we  can support everyone in the best way possible, both now and in future. New services will be launched as part of this work, including a 24/7 helpline.

Mental health and wellbeing is a key priority for Bristol and has been for several years. In 2019 we launched Thrive Bristol, a ten-year programme to improve the mental health of everyone in the city, with a focus on those with the greatest needs. Through our Thrive networks, we are widely promoting tools and resources launched in response to the pandemic, including Our Frontline, Zero Suicide Alliance training and Thriving at Home, as well as existing services which have expanded their offer, such as Talk Club for men and Bristol Mind.

We also became the first city in the country, in October 2019, to make the Mental Health at Work Commitment, and through our Thriving at Work partnership we are developing support for employees across the region. We are offering mental health training to volunteers and community groups in Bristol. These are ongoing initiatives that have been in place since before the pandemic, ones we are continuing to develop so that in future we can all talk openly about mental health problems. This is a future where mental and physical health are comparable in terms of their treatment, transparency and social acceptance. And it is important we all do our part.

Kindness isn’t just for Mental Health Awareness Week – it’s something we should be doing every day. I have every faith that the people of Bristol will continue to support each other through difficult times. It’s up to you, me and each and every person in our city. Only with solidarity will we overcome the challenges ahead of us.

Showing kindness isn’t just something we should do for other people, we need to be kind to ourselves as well. I hope you have used this week as an opportunity to think about your own mental health. I’ve included some resources below to help you and your loved ones.

  • Stay connected with friends and family to help and support others. If you know someone who may be finding lockdown difficult, you could simply text or call them to check they’re okay.
  • Look after your sleep, keep active, and try to limit your news intake.
  • Search the Every Mind Matters website, where you can get your free personalised plan to help you deal with stress and anxiety.
  • Talk about your worries with someone you trust or, if you prefer, a professional. You may wish to call Bristol Mind on 0808 808 0330, or Samaritans on 116 123. More support options are available here.
  • Explore volunteering opportunities to help your local community, at Can Do Bristol.

A full list of local support can be found through the Independent Mental Health Network and the Community Access Support Service, CASS.

We Are Bristol Kids!

Today’s blog comes from Cllr Helen Godwin, Cabinet Member for Women, Children and Families.

There hasn’t been much to celebrate or look forward to in the past few months, but today we are finally able to share something positive and exciting as we launch our brand new online hub, We Are Bristol Kids!

Bristol’s children have been brilliant during lockdown; whatever their ages, circumstances and challenges our kids have shown themselves to be resilient, patient, creative and innovative. As I wrote for Bristol 24/7 earlier this month, I believe that national government has largely ignored the voice of the child throughout the pandemic and has failed to direct any communications or policy towards them.

We want to say a big thank you to our Bristol kids, and that is the inspiration behind today’s launch. Marvin and I want to create an online hub full of creative and educational ideas and inspiration, and a resource created by children,  for children. The new site aims to encourage reading, baking, physical activity, art and the opportunity to engage with the Mayor himself and wider local democracy. With the input of kids from across our beautiful and diverse city, we will create an online hub that tells the story of Bristol’s young people through lockdown and beyond.

This is where our ‘One City’ approach starts to benefit our youngest citizens – we’ve been able to ask for help from incredible Bristolians from across the city to put this site together – including actor Joe Sims, Bristol’s  bake-off star Briony Williams, amazing local artist Jenny Urquart and Bristol Rovers’ first team!

It’s also great timing that one of our Youth Councillors spoke at today’s Annual Council meeting over Zoom. They shared with councillors and the Mayor the work they’ve been doing to keep Bristol’s young people engaged on the big issues during lockdown – you can watch it back here.

I can’t wait to show the We Are Bristol Kids site to my own children today and will be encouraging them to get involved. I really hope that you will do the same. Our first colouring competition is about creating posters to remind drivers to slow down during lockdown.

Bristol’s children need to be seen and need to be heard, but they also need to be celebrated. We Are Bristol Kids intends to do exactly that!

Reopening Bristol’s schools

Today’s guest blog comes from Cabinet member for Education and Skills, Cllr Anna Keen.

On 20 March, schools closed to the majority of pupils. This was a decision that meant we had around 48 hours to create a new style of teaching – utterly unrecognisable from anything most teachers (or children) have experienced before.

As a teacher of Year 6 pupils myself I remember saying goodbye, deeply saddened by the uncertainty of whether we would see our pupils again in their primary school and fearful for their wellbeing and health in the coming days, weeks and months.

The decision to consider a phased reopening of schools was amongst many ill-thought out announcements that took place on 8 May.

It has left the education world reeling and with the toughest dilemma: all staff who work in schools choose to do a job in which they are surrounded by children and thrive on the face-to-face contact this provides. Online teaching is hard, nothing like as responsive or effective and it disadvantages children who are already vulnerable. Despite what some commentators may like us to think, teachers are desperate to be able to return to school. We have all continued to work remotely and most have been in schools looking after key worker and vulnerable children.

However, the other critical part of our job is keeping children safe. Being acutely aware of safeguarding (which includes health and safety) is drummed into teachers the moment we step foot into training college. We are therefore in conflict between being able to do what we know is right for children and being able to do this in a safe way.

This is not a binary issue where the government announcement is correct for every school or every child. Our Mayor and education team has made clear that we will show trust in heads and teachers and back them. They know their local communities. They know their families. They are best placed to know whether they can safely open their school and how many children they can keep safe.

We accept that there are some schools in which the safety guidelines can be met and we will support those that can open in some way from 1 June. We equally accept that many will not be able to achieve that and we support schools in their decision making.

I have never felt prouder of the teaching profession: their adaptability, professionalism and stamina. But I know that, despite our best efforts, children who struggle either academically or emotionally – or who are vulnerable to poor levels of care at home – would greatly benefit from some time in school. I absolutely believe that we have to achieve this return safely and that the picture in June should and will look very different to what the government wants.

We therefore fully support union views that scientific advice on child transmission should be published immediately so that headteachers and their staff can make informed decisions. It will be important for staff to take time to undertake full risk assessments and only open to more children if and when it is safe to do so.

No decision making is easy in times like this. My hope is that there have been lessons learned by central government about the need to engage with teachers, school leaders, unions, parents, carers and children before issuing guidance that will inevitably cause concerns for many people. 

Regardless of when and how your local school reopens, I feel confident that children’s emotional health will be a focus and that Bristol schools will continue to support their families through this time. 

Beyond COVID – pursuing an inclusive recovery

Today’s guest blog comes from Poku Osei, Founder and CEO of Babbasa.

As we begin to rebuild our lives, it is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic will reshape the nation’s economy, industries, and our society in a fundamental way.

The disease has had an impact on all lives – black, white, rich and poor. But it has particularly reminded us that inequality kills. As one doctor put it, ‘pandemics are like guided missiles, attacking those who are poor, disenfranchised and have underlying health problems’. COVID-19 has certainly not been different.

As I write, the disease continues to decimate the lives of people living in poorer communities, simply because they are over-represented in frontline jobs, living in overcrowded housing or holding a less secure employment contract. Regardless of their will, their working and living conditions make it harder to abide by social distancing guidelines. In the UK, these people have disproportionately been from ethnic minority backgrounds, as the Office for National Statistics report revealed last Thursday. It is a stark reminder that the poor indeed die young!

On the other hand, even though young people are considered less physically at risk from coronavirus, it is important to note that they are some of the most vulnerable to its financial aftershocks. The ONS showed that 408,000 people in the 18-24 age group are unemployed, while data from the Resolution Foundation research indicates that the crisis could push a further 600,000 young people into unemployment unless major new support is provided. In addition to this, there is also the reality that tens of thousands of internships, work experience opportunities and entry-level employment roles could be cut for those new to the job markets  – depending on how we choose to respond.

Overall, the impact of COVID on the business community cannot be underestimated. Currently, the UK Government is covering the employment costs of more than 7 million people through its furlough scheme – something which is being perceived as masked unemployment. Nationally, it is predicted that a second wave of an outbreak and lockdown could push approximately 1.1 million businesses into insolvency. In the South West,only 16% of businesses believe they will be able to cope if the crisis lasts 6 months.

In many businesses, this unique set of challenges has led to one response from executives: ‘Yes, we understand the inequalities that ethnic minorities and inexperienced young people are facing, but now is not the time to talk about diversity and inclusion. We need to protect the essentials first and keep our business afloat.’ This is a mistake.

Yes, the response to COVID-19 has created an economic crisis, but at the core of that is a people crisis and organisations that recognise the latter stand a better chance of managing and recovering from the former. In other words, what companies do to make the leap from bad to good, or good to great, will start with getting the right people on the bus. And I say this not least because:

  • Business leaders will need the cultural competence within their teams to deal with a returning workforce affected in a multitude of ways; experiencing new demands of balancing work and care with feelings of grief, loss, isolation or ‘otherness’, and a need for connection
  • Senior management teams will need diversity of thought to accurately assess the political, economic, social and technological opportunities available, to develop effective strategies for growth
  • Middle management will need a diverse frontline workforce to show empathy and offer reassurance to build trust with customers from various backgrounds who may fear to return to habits that were ‘normal’ before COVID-19
  • Supervisors will need the intercultural communication skills to manage teams and foster the sense of shared mission through teleconferencing and messaging apps
  • The general workforce will also need the diversity to understand the social sensitivities and impact of the social inequalities that have been magnified by the pandemic to build a sense of shared belonging

It would be particularly shortsighted for companies to deprioritize the recruitment of young people based on their inexperience in the world of work. They are the generation of digital natives and subsequently represent the architects to plan the new building for the fourth industrial revolution even as the firefighters work to save the old one.

The best leaders and organisations will recognize this fact about young people and minority candidates. Some will do so because it will be the advantage that helps them sprint away from competitors. Others will see that the profound social and economic transformation needed as a result of the pandemic – similar in scale to that of the Second World War – cannot be achieved by any Government or any local authority alone.

The question, therefore, cannot be whether we can address the post-COVID economic crisis and provide inclusive growth at the same time, but rather, whether we can afford not to do so. We cannot jump out of the frying pan of the pandemic and into exacerbation of inequality and social immobility. We risk social unrest and rioting becoming a feature of our cities and further disrupting business and society. We must integrate the solutions to both crises into a coherent response.

At Babbasa, we believe that it is during times of great difficulty that we need to draw on the power of imagination. To mark our recent Queen’s Award For Enterprise, we have launched two initiatives to support young people living in Bristol’s ethnically diverse communities in inner-city Bristol. They include:

1)    An urgent appeal to support those affected by the pandemic, in the short term.

2)    A vision to support at least one person from each household to secure a median salary job by 2030. We believe that this vision will not only lift individuals out of poverty but also, enable them to support their families, serve as role models in their community and contribute to the growth of the Bristol economy in the long term. We believe the ripple effect of this vision for equality, particularly in the aftermath of this pandemic, would be profound.

In Bristol, Mayor Marvin Rees is already providing the needed framework to support such a vision by committing to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and pioneering the innovative One City Approach. I would, therefore, like to throw out a challenge. First – for Bristol’s businesses to recruit or provide a work placement opportunity for at least one talented person from an ethnic minority or low-income community by the end of 2021 to support an inclusive recovery from COVID. Second – for Bristol City Office to include the challenge in the next iteration of the One City Plan, and WECA, to be explicit on a similar commitment in other combined authority areas. Third – for policymakers, investors, academics, community partners, and philanthropists, to work with us on the 10-year vision. Inclusive recovery programmes should be at the heart of economies that are working towards sustainable growth and increased resilience beyond COVID. As we rebuild, we have to open our eyes to both the risks and opportunities on the horizon. What we do now will not only reshape our economy and society, it will also reshape humanity’s future. Making a fairer, inclusive and sustainable recovery is the only bridge to a more resilient future.

Spatial Development Strategy

The types of homes we build, where we build them and how we connect the people living in them to jobs, retail, entertainment and each other will be one of most significant determinants of what Bristol is like in the future. Our health, our community , our levels of inequality and our climate and ecological impact.

We withdrew from the Joint Spatial Plan in April, following the Planning Inspectors response to the shortcomings of the regional plan. The next step is to work collaboratively with the three unitary authorities that make up the combined authority and our neighbours North Somerset, to produce a Spatial Development Strategy (SDS).

We are currently working with our colleagues on a Memorandum of Understanding and a Statement of Common Ground to run alongside the SDS. All of this will take years to complete before we undergo the examination process again, but the revised process presents us with a great opportunity to deliver our commitment to economic inclusion, to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030 and make the Global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) explicit aims of the strategy.

The SDGs present a particularly exciting framework through which to define and approach Bristol’s economic recovery. The 17 goals set out the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. Importantly, they are not single issues but work with through the interdependence of social issues (education, hunger, gender equality, decent work and economic growth and strong Civil Institutions) and environmental issues (climate change, life in the sea, life on land, and responsible production and consumption).

Explicitly committing to delivering the SDGs will help us develop a shared vision and rationale, and it will be a natural extension of what Bristol is already doing as we have aligned the Bristol One City Plan to the SDGs. Bristol was also the first city in the UK, and one of the first in the world, to undertake a Voluntary Local Review.

This strategy is important today and will only increase as we wrestle with the opportunities and challenge of Bristol growing by nearly 100,000 people over the next 25 years. We must deal not only with the challenge of today’s Bristol, but ensure the city we are building delivers equality, inclusion and has a net positive impact on climate and ecology. So a key part of our environmental challenge is to get the city region all pointing in the right direction and establishing the framework and solutions we need, programming in the output we want.

The SDGs must be embedded now in this process to acknowledge the interdependence of economic and environmental justice and to provide the framework in terms of performance and policy. Planning for homes and communities cannot happen in a bubble and strategic transport infrastructure is key to diversifying transport options and reducing car dependency.

They also enable us to be part of a global conversation with other cities, their networks and global leadership. Cities need to be able to shape what goes on inside their boundaries and to shape the national and global policies that influence city life. And for the sake of the planet, we need global governance to move into its next iteration.

National governments have failed to understand or work out how to deliver on these key aims. But where they are lacking, cities across the US, Africa, Asia, South America and Europe have been stepping up and they have been talking about their own recovery in these terms. Recently Amsterdam made the headlines through their public commitment to Doughnut Economics and the SDGs.

Up until now, we have built Bristol with little knowledge or regard to the planetary emergency that was coming on us. This has resulted in city that makes living a low impact life something that requires consciousness, commitment and often spare disposable income. We need to change that and the strategic city region plan offers an opportunity to build in social justice and sustainability into the systems that shape and determine the intended and unintended consequences of our everyday lives.

The West Of England Combined Authority’s Planning and Housing Board will consider the Strategic Planning funding and governance programme on Monday ahead of being considered by the Joint Committee in June.

Today we know what we didn’t know 30 or even 10 years ago. The time to act is now. There is no going back.

 

NOTE: The SDGs are detailed here.

For the work we have already done orienting Bristol delivery of the SDGs, you can read our Local Voluntary Review here and Bristol One City Dashboard here.

Foster Care Fortnight – celebrating our foster carers and the transformational power of fostering

It’s Foster Care Fortnight which gives me an opportunity to highlight Bristol’s incredible community of foster carers. They make room in their lives each and every day to make a world of difference to local children. I especially want to thank them for their continued dedication during these challenging times.

Today’s guest blog comes from George Pennington-Field. George has been a foster carer for almost five years and lives in East Bristol with his partner and four foster children.

Becoming a Foster Carer was about wanting to change someone’s life, offering them a safe and loving environment and supporting them as they grow through life’s challenges and successes. Who knew that my partner and I, along with all our valued fostering friends would be thrown into such an unprecedented and uncertain time with our young people/children. 

It has been the most challenging of times. Chances are most of our children/young people have experienced some form of trauma, loss, and uncertainty, and this has evidently come to the forefront again during the lockdown. 

Like their peers they miss their friends, teachers, social clubs, day trips and input from the professionals around them. Yet added to this mix, they are missing their families, their parents, and siblings.

As a Foster carer during this period we have had to ‘up the game’ as it were, using our creative skills to think up activities that don’t involve going out. We’ve become teachers, pastoral carers and learning support workers. We recognise when our children are becoming anxious or worried, offer a distraction, take on their concerns and worries to add to ours, encourage them to not sweat the small stuff, manage behaviours prompted by their experiences and the impact the virus has on them, and at all times ensure their safety.

Yet, it has also been one of the greatest times. Living in close proximity in the home, I have got to know my four young people/children a lot better. We have laughed at corny jokes, played board games which I haven’t played in years, learnt new skills, baked more cakes than Greggs, clapped the heroes on Thursday nights, painted walls, planted seeds, made outer space creatures from cereal boxes and empty bottles. We have sat and talked around our table, there has been tears but there has been so much more laughter. We have become professionals in the use of Zoom, and the kids have been fascinated to see the interior of their social workers homes, ‘what’s that a picture of behind you?’ ‘what’s your kitchen look like’. We have also been able to share the load with other foster carers, who like us, are in the same situation but still make time for weekly Zoom bingo!

Those professionals around the children have also ‘pulled it out the bag’, offering additional support, phone calls, Zoom visits, craft packs, and in some cases, going above and beyond their role to ensure the needs of our children are being met.

Like everyone else, the message at home has been ‘we are in this together’, and in this I feel they have learnt to work as a team, or shall we call it a family? Rainbows are everywhere in the home and in that their meaning has become apparent in our home and is now a mantra for this family: ‘a promise of good things to come’.

Accelerating our transport plans

KyeToday’s blog is by Cabinet lead for Transport, Energy and a Green New Deal Cllr Kye Dudd.

The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown are having a dramatic effect on Bristol’s transport network, challenging deeply ingrained travel patterns and behaviours in a way that we’ve never seen before.  It is important we harness these changes to improve the way people move around the city forever.

We welcome the Government’s commitments – and cash – for cycling and walking in response. They have now released information and guidance for operators and passengers, which I would encourage people to take a look at here. The advice is that if people cannot work from home and have to travel for work, they should first consider alternatives to public transport. Those driving their own cars have been asked to avoid busy areas.

In Bristol, today we are sharing our plans, as we have previously announced, to improve the central areas for both people and commuters. Our plans to pedestrianise the Old City and close Bristol Bridge and Baldwin street to through car traffic is a real step forward to cleaner air and improved public realm and we have accelerated those plans while the travel patterns have changed. These changes will be made by the end of the summer as an experimental traffic order, and we will use that as a bridge to consult fully on more permanent changes.

This is a key element in delivering the bus deal, with more buses and the longer term mass transit proposals through the centre, while providing opportunities for significant walking and cycling enhancements.

pedestrianisation zone 2020_c -01

And we are going further, with new cycle lanes in central areas, including Marlborough Street, Park Row, Victoria Street, Lewins Mead and the Clifton Triangle. We know that to make walking and cycling an inclusive and accessible option for as many Bristolians as possible, we have to go beyond the centre and shift focus to other areas of the city.  So we are also announcing measures in many other areas such as pavement widening in Bedminster Parade, Stapleton Road and Henbury to make these as safe to use and provide local shopping options for people, supporting our local high streets.

These changes will take just a matter of weeks to implement.

Many of the schemes announced today are already mapped out through the £400m infrastructure programme in the West of England Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan. Because of this, these interventions are evidence-based, building on the work we have already done. We have taken time to explore potential unintended consequences on people shielding, their deliveries, or requirements for disabled access and the safety of junctions. We have to be mindful of the effects on emergency vehicles and displacement of traffic that these interventions have, so we will be watching the impacts (especially on air quality) closely.

To cope with the need for more social distancing, and also proactively approach the challenge our network will face as more people start to move around the city, we are bringing forward additional measures. We are starting from a better point than other Core Cites and we are committed to build on it. Our cycling figures are usually the best of the core cities. For instance four times as many cycling trips per population compared to Manchester, or that we have four times as many miles of segregated cycle-ways as Cardiff.

The road to recovery is difficult to predict, but it is clear that our public transport will be heavily impacted. Operators are experiencing a steep drop in demand, but also a significant change in their capacity as social distancing means buses take reduced number of passengers. We are committed to supporting our bus operators as part of the combined authority, and through the City Office by helping co-ordinate plans for returning to work.

Surveys by Transport Focus have shown that while many people will consider walking and cycling as options to get to work in future, even more will look to use private cars. It found that while 51% of people would be ‘more’ or ‘very likely’ to cycle or walk more often, 60% are also ‘likely’ to take more car journeys. In a city like Bristol, with congestion, clean air issues and a historically neglected transport network, that is a huge challenge.

We’ve always known that people need to have realistic and reliable alternatives to private car travel – we cannot simply force them out. This is why we’ve led on work with our bus deal, and will still work towards the mass transit system Bristol so clearly needs. Our bus network is vital for people, and we need it to succeed in the long term if we are to reach our air quality and carbon neutrality targets.

Finally I want to thank everyone involved in keeping Bristol moving, especially when recent government figures show that it is our taxi, bus and coach drivers who are disproportionately affected by the virus. We are committed to working together with operators and the public to make sure everyone in Bristol feels safe on their way to, from and at work.

Cheers drive.

VE Day 75

This weekend, on May the 8th we collectively celebrate 75 years since the victory of Allied forces over Nazis and Axis forces in Europe and remember those who fought in the conflict.

The physical impact of the war is still felt and seen in parts of Bristol, most obviously at Castle park where the St Peter’s church is kept as a memorial to the Blitz. Bristol was the fifth most heavily bombed British city of the war and over 1,200 people lost their lives.

It’s still part of the lives of many Bristolians. My Nan only passed away last year year. But she would tell me about the war, the air raid shelter they had in Armoury Square, where my Great Grand Parents raised her as one of the ten brothers and sisters who made up the Bryer family. She told me about the air raid sirens, rationing and the struggle to make ends meet. And she spoke with pride about her brothers who served.

The contribution Bristol made to Britain’s Merchant Navy is seen at the memorial at Welsh Back – the number of lost ships gives a sobering reminder to the scale of sacrifice made by people to keep Britain supplied and fed. It has been so important to see the Merchant Navy begin to get the recognition for the critical role it played, the risks faced and lives lost. It is worth visiting the Merchant Navy museum at the end of the harbour.

BBC Radio Bristol launched their VE coverage interviewing a Jamaican serviceman. Just over a year ago Bristol unveiled a Sikh war memorial, commemorating those Sikhs that served in World War One and World War Two. This stands near to the special memorial trees which commemorate the D-Day landings, a tree for each of the beaches that US, Canadian and British forces bravely captured, speeding the downfall of Nazi occupied Europe on a second front. It is important to remember that fighting also continued in the Pacific theater – Bristol born Field Marshal Bill Slim led the Fourteenth (or “forgotten” as they called themselves) Army in Burma and Malaysia until eventual victory was secured.

People are recognising how we came together across the Commonwealth to fight fascism and win the victory in Europe. This speaks deeply to me as a man of White English, Welsh and Black Jamaican, African heritage.

After victory, we rebuilt, and we did so together. Not just our city, homes and economy, but also the relationships across the continent. Our twinning relationship with the German city of Hannover is one of the oldest twinning relationships, started when Bristolians donated shoes to the barefooted children of the city. I visited Hannover in 2017. This act of compassion by our city is something that is still celebrated by them and has created a proud bond they want to endure.

People gave their lives for that victory. It’s our job to commemorate that sacrifice and victory but also to honour and defend them by continuing to fight all they meant – the defeat of a politics and culture of division, dehumanisation, hate, violence and industrial murder and the victory of a political culture we could work with to pursue peace, assert the value of all human life, and build community.

This bank holiday I want to thank those men and women, of all nations, that sacrificed so much so that today we can live in freedom.