From the ground up

Today is UN World Soil Day. Concerns over the health of agricultural soil might not seem like an issue that would concern us, living in a major city. However, with the highest levels of obesity found in urban areas, improving access to healthy food has to be a key priority.

The UK doesn’t eat enough fresh fruit and veg. Only 29% of adults and 18% of children eat the recommended daily amount of fruit or veg and almost 10% of reception aged children have a BMI categorised as obese, growing to 20% of children in year 6.

Programs to encourage better diets are valuable but the problem goes much deeper than education. People know that an apple is better for them than a bag of crisps, but often the choice isn’t that straightforward. Fresh produce (especially organic foods) are considerably more expensive that junk food alternatives and aren’t as readily available in low-income communities, where obesity levels are highest.  Many Bristol residents live in ‘food deserts’ with limited access to affordable fresh food.

Due to a decade of government led austerity, many families are limited to purchasing cheap food of low nutritional value. The two-tiered food system cannot continue.   It must not be the case that only the wealthiest people can afford to purchase healthy and nutritious food while the most vulnerable families in our city can only afford to purchase food that is high in salt, fat and sugar. The lack of affordable food choices in the UK condemns a generation of low-income children to poor health, shortening their life expectancy and reducing the long-term likelihood of escaping poverty.

To reverse trends in malnutrition and diseases across the city, there needs to be a radical re-imagining of how we produce and consume food – every citizen in Bristol needs access to healthy and nutritional food and no Bristolian should go hungry.

We are working hard to become a Gold Sustainable Food City, developing a stronger Bristol food system that promotes dietary health for all citizens. Our Bristol Going For Gold campaign is encouraging a citywide commitment to reduce food waste across the city and improve catering and procurement by increasing the weighting placed on food quality, with local production being a key consideration.

We also need to grow more food locally and encourage urban farming right here in Bristol. To tackle food poverty we aim that by 2040, 15% of Bristol’s annual fruit and vegetable supply will come from a network of market gardens and farms within the city-limits. This could mean more high-tech solutions from companies like Grow Bristol, who are using innovative hydroponic systems. It will also mean increasing community gardens across Bristol to allow more people the opportunity to grow their own vegetables.    

In my 2020 campaign for Mayor, I pledge to have community gardens and allotments in every ward and I will pledge that affordable fresh food will be available within a 10-minute radius from every home by 2031.

It may surprise you to know that Bristol has almost 1,500 hectares of designated farmland, some of it in the top 3% of food growing land in the country, but as we wrestle with the housing crisis and a city which will grow, it creates a difficult tension.  It is essential that we build more housing to accommodate an ever-growing population, but we cannot lose green spaces that are essential for environmental health and physical activity.

Changing the food infrastructure and supply chains, I want a permanent food hub in the heart of Bristol so that small-scale farmers, growers and food producers can sell their produce throughout the year in a high-spec facility. This would also provide a new landmark for the city and provide a gathering place for the city to share food and build connections.

Healthy food must be something that we can all afford and enjoy – our farmland and soil is at the root of achieving that goal.

Women in leadership

At Cabinet on Tuesday Nicola Beech had her 10 month old son Alex. As we worked through agenda covering Adult Social Care, South Bristol’s Recycling and Reuse center, the Portway Park and Ride station, our budget, road maintenance and the Harbour review. He sat there squeaking and making noise. I was proud.

Cllr Helen Godwin had stressed the importance of Family Friendly politics. It’s vital our politics is more inclusive and in turn expressive of different life experiences. With the burden for childcare disproportionately falling onto the shoulders of women, making politics family friendly makes it more possible for women to take leadership roles. For too long our politics in general – and local authority politics in particular – has been dominated by retired white men. And we have reaped the consequences.

We made a 50:50 commitment for our cabinet. And we have delivered: with five women appointed to four men and one woman as a Deputy Mayor. We have women in leadership. Between myself and my cabinet we have 13 school aged kids between us.

I was talking to young women this afternoon about women in political leadership and I was struck by the role modelling, the number of women in leadership in Bristol,  has brought.  

And most importantly, we can look at the city looks like through parent’s eyes. The result?

There are implications for this commitment. School plays, parent’s evenings, pregnancies and sick children are normal parts of every family and have all impacted on our cabinet. They have not impacted on performance but we have had to find a way to support each other to navigate the unending supply of council meetings. If we don’t do this we will lose younger, more gender and ethnically diverse councillors. Staying real with family is critical to remaining rounded political leaders who understand the city and continue to deliver.

Despite this, an opposition councillor last week made a complaint to the press about Helen Godwin our Cabinet lead for Women Children and Families for not attending a Scrutiny meeting. The circumstances are important. Her son was off school with a fever, along with 50 other children from the school. She had talked to me beforehand, ensured her work load was being taken forward. What’s more, the setting of the time and dates had not been checked with the member. It is Helen that instituted and led the development of the Bristol Children’s Charter, work on care leavers (including exempting them from council tax up to the age of 25yrs), childcare, street conflict and knife crime and a campaign on period poverty that’s influenced national policy and won the admiration of the Mayor of Los Angeles, amongst many others.

Our Cabinet member for strategic planning, Nicola Beech leads some of our most complex work around urban planning and large developments worth billions of pounds whilst being a mum to two children under three. The pace of city development and cranes on the horizon are evidence she is doing a great job. No complaints from credible developers in the city or government until an opposition councillor raised questions about her attendance at some council meetings. Again, an unwell baby had come in between her and those meetings but had not come between her and other council meetings or the true role of councillors of delivering for Bristol. Its Nicola who has taken leadership of the Temple Meads redevelopment, setting out minimum standards and on climate resilient housing at Frome Gateway .

It’s evidence of a failure of the opposition to either understand or take seriously the need to make politics more inclusive – particularly in this instance for women – and what it takes to make it more inclusive.

I am proud of my cabinet. We are the most diverse cabinet in the most diverse political party Bristol has ever known. We have delivered inclusion alongside an ambition and excellence that has won national and international plaudits. The emphasis for this administration has always been on working with the city to deliver rather than talking to ourselves in meetings that offer councillors anonymity as they fail to get anything done. We are delivering where the old systems have failed.    

These attacks are not real political debate. Rather it’s symptomatic of the deterioration in the tone and quality of our civic discourse. Michelle Obama might call it “low” politics, and we are all paying a price for it.

And this week an opposition councillor has raised questions over Anna Keen, our cabinet lead for Education and Skills. Anna is a Primary school teacher. She reduced her work hours to part time to make space alongside family to take on the cabinet role. Again, Anna has delivered not least by bringing genuine expertise in the education system and professional knowledge of what’s happening on the front line i.e. in the classroom, to the decisions we make. And yet an opposition councillor has suggested she shouldn’t take the full allowance if, as he wrongly suggests, she isn’t full time.   

Again, there is no question over Anna’s performance. In fact, even on the challenge of SEND, the recent inspection said that while Bristol was not where it should be (a consequence of both local and national failures that have been building for many years), it is since Anna became the lead that the green shoots of recovery began to appear.

But we need to keep the following in mind: working people have to keep their existing jobs because of the insecurity of political appointment and election cycle. Working people then have to balance two jobs, or a part time job if they have an understanding employer. Working people can’t spend all their time in cabinet and then drop off a cliff after election or cabinet change by mayor. People who aren’t independently wealthy need the income to supplement what is a modest allowance  when compared the quantity of work and scale of responsibility they take on and they need career security afterwards.

We want people in political leadership who face the same challenges as the city, who look like them, have to behave like them and face financial and family challenges, like them.  If we start attacking them when life gets in the way of council meetings, we’ll lose them. This will be both an injustice in itself and bad for us as we are thrown back in time to a world in which only the wealthy had the time and financial means to become political leaders. 

Somebody recently asked me about what the hardest part of my job as a mayor was. I told them that it was trying to juggle the responsibilities as a husband and father with the demands of office and diary.

No-one is asking for sympathy. That is not the point. What we need is a better quality of political debate, a more representative political cohort made up of broadminded people with lived experience of the array of life challenges and a city council ready to make provision needed to make that possible.

I don’t usually respond to the efforts to throw mud and create fake debates. But I thought I would on this occasion. We made a pledge to make politics in the chamber child friendly and we have. And we will stick with it in the face of whatever criticisms the opposition may try to dredge up and pass off as real politics.

Taking Root

Last week was National Tree Week, and I joined over 60 pupils from Begbrook Primary Academy, Deputy Mayor Asher Craig and volunteers from Plastic Pollution Awareness and Action Projects to help plant 210 trees in Begbrook Green Park. This tree planting event was part of our Replant Bristol campaign, which will build on our ambitious One Tree Per Child project, and encourage employers and partners to donate land and provide volunteers to we can plant One Tree Per Employee In Bristol.

By working in partnership with the Woodland Trust, the Bristol Tree Forum, the Forest of Avon Trust and a range of city partners, we have pledged to double the size of Bristol’s Tree canopy by 2046.

Increasing the number of trees in our city makes a big impact in our fight against air pollution and climate change. Bristol’s trees remove an estimated 100 tonnes of pollutants from our air every year, and remove up to 14,000 tonnes of CO2 every year. That’s equivalent to the annual emissions of 9,000 cars. Trees also soak up 90,000 cubic meters of water each year. They are also crucial to maintaining and improving our city’s biodiversity, helping us create natural wildlife corridors across the city. We have even considered the environmental impact of the materials we have used to help these young trees grow: instead of using plastic protective coating, the trees have been planted using biodegradable mats which will naturally decompose as the trees grow.

The trees the pupils planted last week will do even more, however. They will enrich our natural environment, making our city a greener and more pleasant place to live. The children I met all shared their excitement about making a difference to their local area, how much they enjoy having green space such as Begbrook Park on their doorstep, and how much they were looking forward to one day climbing and playing around the trees they have planted today.

I’d like to extend my thanks to the staff and pupils at Begbrook Primary Academy, and Plastic Pollution Awareness and Action Projects’ founder Naseem Talukdar, who has pledged to plant 1,000 trees across the city to support our ambition.

You can find more information about how to support Replant Bristol here.

Fair Saturday in Bristol – 30 November

As Bristol’s shopping destinations begin to switch on their Christmas lights  we’re gearing up for this year’s Fair Saturday.

Fair Saturday is a creative response to Black Friday’s commercialism. It takes place the day after – this year on the last Saturday of November. Fair Saturday creates a positive social impact where artists, performers and cultural organisations showcase their talents and raises awareness of causes of their choosing.

Peter Hall Photography

Last year Bristol was the first city in England to take part in Fair Saturday. This year we’re proud to be fully supporting it again, and we will be joined by, and collaborating with, neighbouring Cardiff, along with 180 other cities across the globe.

Events will take place from Lockleaze to Filwood and across the city. The lineup includes a breakfast to celebrate Bristol’s diversity, pop up poetry, a talk by Magnum photographer Martin Parr, music events from local bands like Jamaican folk culture group Tan Teddy, street art workshops, theater, film screenings and much more. See the full programme here.

Many small and independent traders will be participating and supporting good causes for Fair Saturday. Stall holders, independent shops, street food producers and concession holders are a vital part of our economy and street scene; they also form part of what’s uniquely ‘Bristol’ – our culture and style.

Part of Bristol’s economic strength is its spirit of enterprise and the city is widely recognised for being a good place to start a business. St Nicholas has been the traditional centre of Bristol market activity since 1743. The demand of small scale trading is vibrant at the market and is buzzing with activity, especially within the Christmas period.

You can show your support to our local traders this Christmas by visiting St Nicholas Market to pick up your festive treats and stocking fillers. The traditional Indoor Market and Christmas themed Outdoor Markets are home to a wide range of independent retailers in the city offering a variety of handmade crafts, unique gifts and delicious fresh street food. To find out more please visit the website.

It’s that culture/commerce balance that is the focus of Fair Saturday, which seeks to promote cultural activity and empathy as a balance to global commerce. Fair Saturday is the perfect opportunity for us to come together and celebrate the many talents within the city.

I’m proud to be supporting the initiative and will be launching the day at 11am on 30 November at The Fair Saturday Breakfast, The Station Kitchen with 91 Ways to Build a Global City, The Misfits and the Poetry Machine. Please join me in kicking off what is set to be a brilliant day!

Bristol Commission for Race Equality & Women’s Commission

At our Full Council meeting last week, we received reports on the work of the Bristol Women’s Commission and the Bristol Commission on Racial Equality.

Both of these commissions do vital work for our city. They bring together expertise from across Bristol to help us create a fair and inclusive city, where economic and social equality is at the heart of everything we do. I invited Sandra Gordon and Vernon Dowdy, interim Chair and Vice Chair for the Bristol Commission for Race Equality, and Penny Gane – chair of the Bristol Women’s Commission to share the work they have done.

Bristol Commission for Race Equality

Bristol is a city where racial and ethnic disparities prevail.

“Ethnic minorities in Bristol experience greater disadvantage than in England and Wales as a whole in education and employment and this is particularly so for Black African people” (Runnymede 2017)

The Bristol Mayoral Commission on Race Equality (CoRE) was set up in January 2018 to help address the systemic discrimination and disadvantages experienced by members of its community because of their race or ethnicity.

In the last 18 months we have:

  • worked with Avon and Somerset Police to support the development of a diversity and inclusion training pathway to ensure cultural competency throughout process;
  • facilitated a series of community engagement events ‘It Takes a Village’ focussed on Black and Dual heritage families exploring impact of serious youth violence and the criminal justice system. Our next event is on 12th December 2019 at City Academy 5-9.30pm;
  • worked with the Judiciary to recruit 11 BAME magistrates, the highest number of BAME magistrates recruited in Bristol;
  • joined the Police Strategic Independent Advisory Group, Women’s Independent Advisory Group and Lammy Review Meeting, contributing to meaningful discussions on Police and Community relations;
  • commissioned parent/teacher/student conferences with a view to address the current inequalities suggested through data and incidents to identify changes to current CPD programmes to support teachers, and identify support needed for parents;
  • participated in a research project to look at the national and global initiatives that have led to higher performance within the BAME community with a view to bringing this back to the Bristol Context;
  • supported the Global Majority Teachers Network in June 2019 to bring Bristol’s BAME teachers together. This group supports teachers through Continued Professional Development, networking and allowing BAME teachers who often work in isolation a place to share their experiences with others.

The task of delivering equality and equity to the City’s disadvantaged is no small matter and is a task for us all, the rewards are a stronger, more productive and cohesive place for us all to live and thrive.

The city needs to embrace the challenge required to make real change through a One City collective approach to delivery. There is a need to explore this opportunity and work towards the Mayoral Commission on Race becoming a City Commission on Race and an integral part of the One City Plan.

Bristol Women’s Commission

The commission was set up in 2014, when Bristol signed the European Charter for equality of women and men in local life. Bristol Women’s Voice is a network for women in Bristol that supports the Bristol Women’s Commission and works with decision makers to ensure actions are taken which make a real difference to women’s lives.

The commission seeks to redress the unequal representation and discrimination encountered by women and girls in Bristol. It has six task groups of stakeholders and experts. Some 70 women from 65 organisations now contribute time and work to the commission. We also now have a Cabinet Member for Women in Bristol, who sits on the commission.

We are five short years in the making and in this time have:

  • drawn up a Women in Business Charter, signed by well over 50 employers, to help address the gender pay gap;
  • organised a huge citywide programme of Suffrage Centenary events in 2018;
  • won funding that enabled us to focus on getting women into paid employment in one of the most disadvantaged areas of Bristol; 
  • run a 50-50 campaign that has seen numbers of women councillors increase from 26% to 43% in two years;
  • lobbied for affordable child care in Bristol (now a One City priority);
  • achieved a standalone chapter on women’s health in the Joint Needs Assessment (that reports on the health and wellbeing needs of the people of Bristol), to highlight the difference between men and women’s health and social outcomes;
  • set up the Bristol Zero Tolerance initiative, to tackle violence against women and girls. This means employers now have policies and actions to tackle gender-based violence, abuse, harassment and exploitation;
  • worked with Avon and Somerset police through the  Zero Tolerance initiative, to get misogyny accepted as a hate crime;
  • championed a ‘nil cap’ (zero – that none should exist) on sexual entertainment venues;
  • secured Government Equalities Office funding of almost £300,000 in 2 years;
  • run two girls’ conferences per year for last three years, with the support of positive role models;
  • addressed the safety of women on public transport: particularly male violence and pornography. This is now on the agenda of the Confederation of Passenger Transport meeting in January 2020, and will be raised nationally. 

We have also expanded the commission partnership to include Bristol Women’s Voice, the West of England Combined Authority, the University of West of England, the University of Bristol, University Hospital Bristol, the Clinical Commissioning Group, Avon and Somerset Police, the Trade Union Congress, City of Bristol College, Bristol schools, First Bus, Trinity Mirror, the Fawcett Society, Voscur, representatives of the One City Plan and four councillors from different parties as well as the Cabinet Member for Women.

Clean Air Summit

This week, city partners came together for Bristol’s first Clean Air Summit, co-hosted by Bristol City Council and UK100.

The Summit was the first city wide discussion on the proposed Clean Air Zone and diesel ban policy, submitted to government as an outline plan to clean our air as well as looking at wider environmental improvements.

On the same day, Kings College produced a report that demonstrated, without any action, 300 000 life years could be lost by Bristolians. The lead researcher David Dajnak presented the report, highlighting that children born in 2011 would die up to 6 months early, from the impact of poor air. 

Our clean air proposals are a response to our moral, legal and ecological obligations to reduce levels of nitrogen dioxide in the city in the shortest possible time.

The NHS, SusCom, Bristol Clean Air Alliance, Destination Bristol, Bristol Green Capital Partnership, UWE, the Environment Agency, RADE, Stagecoach, Sustrans, Business West, Black South West Network, Uber, First Bus and others all contributed with all partners recognising the health emergency.

Themes of discussion centred around:  

  • Logistical challenges and support for the economy and for organisations during the transition.
  • Finding a balance between exemptions and mitigations, without undermining the integrity of the scheme.
  • A Communications plan to explain the health challenge, the narrow legal requirement and the support available

My team then shared emerging plans to transform the city’s public transport system and re-imagine a pedestrianised city centre, with radical improvements to bus and rail services, and developing the mass transit underground network.

I referenced these plans in my recent State of the City Speech and as we work together with our neighbours, we will publish details of these transformative plans very soon. 

In a debate led by Guy Hitchcock from Ricardo, we went on to discuss the need for positive incentives to further reduce emissions from Bristol’s vehicle fleet and decarbonise our transport fleet to achieve zero net emissions by 2030, in line with the targets set in the One City Plan. 

This debate centre on:

  • Vehicle electrification targets
  • Financial incentives, like cheaper parking for Electric Vehicles
  • Support the roll-out of electric charging infrastructure 
  • Supporting more EV-specific car club spaces;
  • Transitioning the Council’s and other  fleets

We will be taking forward these initiatives into our climate strategy as we maintain momentum on cleaning our air, tackling non traffic emissions and making real change in a climate emergency.

Child-Friendly City conference

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

As we prepare to welcome delegates  from across the globe to Bristol for the first ‘Towards The Child Friendly City’ conference later this month it has given us an opportunity to reflect on our own city and to challenge ourselves.

How child friendly is Bristol?

Bristol has a strong reputation as a city that believes in children, in play, in creativity and inclusion;  it is no coincidence that we were the first choice city to host this international conference. We have much to share. Our incredible, resilient adventure playgrounds, the Playing Out movement that began here in Bristol, our Youth Council which is recognised across the world for including young people in democracy – the list goes on. However, there is clearly more to do and I want to use this conference and UN Universal Children’s Day (20 November) to challenge our city further.

For Bristol to call itself truly child friendly this has to be reflected in our infrastructure and our built environment. As Bristol changes we are building much needed homes, communities and infrastructure but we must demand design that works for families and that emboldens children whilst keeping them safe, fit and well.

Earlier this month I took our ALIVE obesity reduction strategy to Cabinet. This strategy focuses on healthy eating, physical activity and healthy places. We have an opportunity to make Bristol a healthy place by ensuring that as we develop and regenerate the future city we ask questions of planners and developers and challenge ourselves to create spaces for children to thrive, create, breath clean air and stay fit, safe and healthy.

All of these asks are enshrined in our Bristol Children’s Charter, launched last year and now with over 100 signatory organisations all committed to putting children first in Bristol. This commitment is palpable but now is the time to take the next step. Our Bristol focussed session at the conference (tickets available here) will be an opportunity for professionals from the key sectors to come together with experts in children’s rights to discuss how best Bristol can rise to this challenge. The answer no doubt lies in innovation, creativity, teamwork and a little bit of hope. All of which are qualities that children demonstrate in abundance!

For more information on the conference please contact Adrian Voce at Adrian@playfulplanet.org.uk . Delegate passes are still available, as well as tickets for the Bristol focussed session.

Cistern Change: World Toilet Day

Today’s guest blog comes from Deputy Mayor Cllr Asher Craig.

Today is World Toilet Day, a United Nations initiative. It highlights that Sustainable Development Goal 6 – sanitation for all – is still essential when globally 4.2 billion people live without safely-managed sanitation.

Here in the UK we are able to take this for granted, but over the past decade we have seen a reduction in the number of council run toilet facilities. This BBC News article attempts to show the national picture of council run toilets.

In Bristol, as a result of decreasing funding in December 2017, we took the difficult decision to end funding for 14 public toilets across the city. Although we were able to continue with 9 toilets in our parks and we transferred the toilets on the downs to the downs committee and the Clifton Suspension Bridge Trust, we know that people we concerned about the impact it would have. Many older people and disabled people are particularly need access to toilets.

That’s why we asked the city and local business to join our community toilet scheme to replace, improve and expand our offer.

I am pleased that it has been a huge success. Today there are over 100 community toilets that are part of the scheme, 85% of which are accessible, and all toilets are open to members of the public without discrimination. It is considered one of the most successful schemes in the country by the British Toilet Association.

Not only have we got more toilets available for use, but many are open for longer than the public toilets were (including one open 24hrs a day), but because the premises are in use they are much better cared for than some of the locations which they replaced.

We are working to make sure the whole city has coverage, and there is a community toilet in 26 of the 34 wards of Bristol. We are focusing on finding additions to the scheme near to transport hubs and bus routes. The public toilet map shows opening times, types of facilities and location of toilets in Bristol and you can find toilets with adult changing facilities on the Changing Places website.

We also co-produced a paper brochure with Bristol Ageing Better because we know that some people don’t have access to the internet. For those that do, there is a smartphone app for finding the nearest toilet to you.

We are so grateful for the support of people that have joined the scheme and helped make Bristol a better place for people to enjoy. It has been a whole city response to what is a national problem. It shows how business, with the support of the council, can help during a time of reducing council footprint in the city.

To sign up for the Community Toilet Scheme or to find out more about what is involved, visit www.bristol.gov.uk/communitytoilets .

World AIDS Day

Today’s guest blog comes from Aled Osborne, Fundraising and Communications Manager, Brigstowe.

December 1st is when we mark World AIDS Day. It is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, to show support for people living with HIV, and to commemorate those who have died from an AIDS-related illness. Founded in 1988 by 2 people who were working in the World Health Organisation, the premise was simple: to raise awareness and to dispel stigma.

The theme of this year’s World AIDS Day is ‘Communities Make the Difference’. This year it is important to recognise the essential role that communities have played and to continue to play in the HIV/AIDS response at the international, national and local levels.

Communities contribute to the HIV/AIDS response in many different ways. Their leadership and advocacy ensure that the response remains relevant and grounded, keeping people at the centre and leaving no one behind. Communities include peer educators, networks of people living with or affected by HIV, such as gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs and sex workers, women and young people, counsellors, community health workers, voluntary and community sector organisations, and grass-roots activists.

In the Bristol area there are approximately 1400 people living with HIV who are accessing care at Southmead Hospital, there is a prevalence of 2.7 per 1000 and we have around 50 new diagnoses every year. We are also very blessed to have amazing services – from the care people living with HIV receive at Southmead Hospital, the testing options provided by Unity Sexual Health and the Terrence Higgins Trust, to the health and well-being support provided by Brigstowe. There are also a large group of passionate and vocal activists who continue to empower those living with HIV and impact the conversation surrounding HIV in Bristol.

Here at City Hall we are proud to support this special time of year and have lots going on. We will fly the Red Ribbon Flag until World AIDS Day. Brigstowe and the Terrence Higgins Trust are also coming into City Hall to promote their services and offer rapid testing.

On Saturday 30th November at an event in the Watershed, the Mayor will be signing the declaration for Bristol to become a Fast Track City. This is a global initiative which aims to improve the local response to HIV & AIDS by achieving the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) 90-90-90 targets by 2020. This is an important step in our mission to stop deaths related to HIV and AIDS, end new infections, and eliminate stigma for people living with HIV in our city.

Becoming a living wage city requires business leaders to step up

Ines Lage, South West TUC. © Jess Hurd

Today’s blog comes from Ines Lage of the Trade Union Congress (TUC)

Today is the culmination of Living Wage Week – a time to praise good businesses and employers who voluntarily agree to pay all their directly and indirectly employed staff at least the real living wage.

Unlike the national minimum wage, this hourly rate (currently set at £9.30) is independently calculated by the Living Wage Foundation to recognise the true cost of living.

More than 70 businesses in Bristol are now accredited, including Bristol City Council, meaning more than 19,000 employees in the city work for an employer who recognises a decent living wage as a key part of their employment responsibilities. 

Unfortunately, there are still 33,000 jobs in the city paid below the living wage. And unless more businesses get on board, Bristol’s image of a tale of two cities will not go away.

Nationally, very little has been done to tackle the rise of in-work poverty. Piecemeal increases to the legal minimum wage rates alongside a decade of decreasing real-terms wages, low productivity, funding cuts and limited national investment into the regions has meant that Bristol, like many cities across the country, has seen more working households struggling to make ends meet.   

In the last year alone, Bristol handed out over 50,000 meals to poor families and children.  And average household debt has soared as more people turn to credit to cover basic household bills. 

You are now more likely to be in poverty and in work than poor and jobless.

So it was inspiring to hear the Mayor of Bristol set a challenge to the many city leaders involved in the One City Plan to become real living wage employers.

Not just because of the economic benefits it would have for the business and for Bristol, but because “it speaks to the values of who we are as a city and who we want to be in the future”.  

Tackling entrenched inequality in some of Bristol’s poorest areas was one of the driving forces for Bristol’s ‘One City Plan’ – and it’s what brought so many of Bristol’s business leaders together to achieve this innovative approach to city-wide leadership.

However, true leadership means recognising that we each have a role to play in achieving the set of standards we want to see in the places we live and work.

As city leaders sit down to co-create an inclusive and sustainable Bristol, it would be good to see some self-reflection from each leader about their own employment standards and practices.

True, many will probably be paying their directly employed staff well above the real living wage. But what we’ve found is that it’s often those employed through third-party suppliers or contractors, such as cleaners, security and reception staff, whose wages too often fall below living-wage standards.

As the federation of trade unions, the TUC knows all too well how good quality jobs that pay a decent wage can tackle deep-rooted inequality and bring people out of poverty. A decent job ensures that more people can fulfil their potential, secure a decent start in life for their children, and maintain a stable home and standard of living. And for businesses it creates a loyal, healthy and happy workforce.

If Bristol’s health trusts and school academies, transport companies, sports clubs and leading tech and finance firms all signed up to be living wage employers, we’d be well on the way to achieving the social justice we want to see in the city.

Bristol deserves a pay rise – working together, we can deliver it.