Wait for the Evidence

Full Council debated the Bristol arena last night.

Firstly, let me be clear that the decision has not been made and we are building an evidence base to ensure that we are best positioned to make the right decision for Bristol. There are strong arguments both ways. Do keep in mind that we now have options. This should be understood as a good place for the city to be rather than a source of political argument.

The framing of the debate is problematic. The first question that needs to be asked in this debate is not where shall we build the Arena but is can we afford to build it?

Our first priority has to be to commit to delivering an arena for Bristol at a price the city can afford – we remain the only major city in the UK without one. But this debate is happening without key facts, and without a full understanding of the current situation.

We have commissioned three pieces of work. First, a value for money exercise around the current arena.  We inherited a project which we know has gone substantially over the originally  proposed budget or the available funding. That is our primary focus, identifying if we can and how we can build an affordable arena in that location. In addition, we have to review existing agreements to ensure they work for the city. Nottingham has only just broken even with its arena development because they built an ice rink alongside it – and we have a responsibility to ensure this project is sustainable and supports Bristol for 50 years.

Alongside this work, we are reviewing the economic assessment of this project – Leeds arena in the city centre brought fewer than 20 full-time jobs. All arenas bring temporary, casual and short term work. What’s more, in Leeds and other city centre locations, around 80% of all visitors arrive by car.

Second, it’s public knowledge that we have received an offer from the private sector to build an arena.  We would be foolish to ignore that offer, given what we already know about the rising costs of the existing project, the level of risk in running an arena and the risk in a construction of this scale. As part of that offer, we have to assess the infrastructure already planned in that area, what we would need to deliver to enable it to be built, and to obtain planning permission. We also need an economic assessment for that option.

Finally, we have to look at what options could be available on Temple Island if we couldn’t proceed with the arena, along with jobs and economic assessments. The land wouldn’t sit there empty. It is possible that if Filton was progressed, we could deliver a better economic impact for the city and particularly the south of the city through an alternative project on Temple Island. It’s also true the economic picture in Temple Meads and the Temple Quarter is very different today than in 2012, with the University project and our bid to the Housing Infrastructure Fund for housing development in the area changing the catalytic situation there.

On top of these pieces of work that will inform the decision, we will have valuable and intelligent assessments that will mean we can make the right decision for the city.

We will bring together the evidence and you will have time to assess it before our decision – but it will be based on facts and evidence. We don’t have a limitless pot of money – if the arena was simple and affordable, it would have been built by now.

Keep in mind:

If we overspend as a result of a rush and make an ill informed decision, the council will end up having to choose what housing projects, what infrastructure and even, what services we don’t want to fund.

If we save the ring-fenced money through private development, we would open up tens of millions for alternative projects for the economic development of the city.

The decision hasn’t been made, but we have a responsibility to the city to consider these points.

In the 1990’s, I worked in the US with a veteran of the Civil Rights movement by the name of Jim Wallis. He used to talk about what he referred to as “wet finger politicians”. He described them as politicians who wet their fingers, stick them in the air, see which way the wind is blowing and followed it. That is not us. We will make a decision on the basis of the evidence. We will work with the city, but we also have to make a call on the basis of the evidence.

I say wait for the evidence – we will make sure councillors get the opportunity through the scrutiny process to look at it closely – and we can all ensure this major decision will be evidence based, managed well and deliver a long term solution for Bristol.

A Solid Foundation

Today’s guest blog is written by Deputy Mayor Craig Cheney.

Last week the Government published their best value inspection into Northamptonshire County Council:


Northamptonshire County Council has been in the news since February when they issued a section 114 notice, a mechanism which imposes spending controls. Believed to be the first one in two decades, the notice bans all new spending on anything other than statutory services for vulnerable people.

The effects are already being felt by the people of Northamptonshire, with plans to sell off the brand new council HQ, removing all bus subsidies and closing 21 of 36 libraries – all while 2,000 cases await allocation to social workers.

The report recommends that the government brings in commissioners to control the council’s finances and the break up the county council into two Unitary Authorities by the next election.

Whilst we’ve taken a lot of criticism over the past few years for taking difficult decisions, this was almost exactly the position we found ourselves in when we came in back in 2016. Poor financial controls and transparency were criticised by the Bundred review of Bristol City Council’s previous leadership structures. We have methodically and rigorously solved, or are solving, each problem identified. Now we’re coming out the other side.

The report states that “In Local Government there is no substitute for doing boring really well. Only when you have a solid foundation can you innovate.” The outside world won’t always realise or notice the work that goes on in the background to achieve the sound base the council is now on. I just wanted to highlight and thank those involved for all for the work done so far and to remind ourselves of what we’ve achieved in difficult circumstances.

As a Labour administration we deserve recognition for it, but it is satisfaction enough to know Bristol will be better off for years to come because of the groundwork we’ve put in.

Things are looking up from here as we protect and deliver services and begin to move forward with the infrastructure our city needs to continue to grow.

Our Commitment to Breaking the Cycle of Domestic Abuse

Domestic violence and abuse is an issue that permeates every area of society. While it is perpetrated by women against men, and by those in same sex relationships, the majority of domestic abuse is perpetrated by men against women. In 2012, the World Health Organisation described violence against women as “a global health problem of epidemic proportions”. In Bristol there were more than 6,700 reported domestic abuse related incidents and crimes in 2015/16. The numbers have risen in recent years. This is not just a women’s issue, but an intergenerational public health issue that affects everybody.

There is increasing social awareness of the extent and repercussions of domestic abuse on families. Local data indicates that children are in the same room in 50% of domestic violence cases. Almost every boy who enters the care system in Bristol has been exposed to domestic abuse. The impact of exposure to domestic abuse is compounded by other Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s), and affects the lives of children, adolescents and adults in our city in the long term. ACEs include physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, living with someone who abuses drugs and alcohol, parental loss through divorce, abandonment or death, and living with someone with a serious mental illness. Research shows that children who experience four or more ACE’s are significantly more likely to develop problems that they carry throughout adulthood.

At City Hall on Wednesday, council staff, representatives from the police, the Police and Crime Commissioner’s office, Bristol Women’s Voice, Bristol Clinical Commissioning Group, Second Step and other local charities, a joint commitment was set out to tackle the issue together. It’s also important to recognise that, while formal institutions have a key role, tackling the issue is not just about public services, but about culture. This is why it is vital that businesses, faith groups and community groups also play a central role in our city’s ability to prevent domestic abuse from devastating lives. It is also why teaching men and boys about acceptable behaviour is also pivotal to bringing about the cultural change we need.

Together with my Cabinet Member for Women, Children and Families, Helen Godwin, and Head of Children’s Services, we have made a commitment to embedding the goal of becoming an ACEs resilient city into the One City Plan, which sets out an ambitious 50 year vision for our city. This is part of our commitment to get our city’s children off to the best possible start in life and break the cycle of devastation caused by domestic abuse.


National Apprenticeship Week

amy-rodwell.jpgToday’s guest blog, in honour of National Apprenticeship Week, is written by Amy Rodwell. Amy is an apprentice in the Mayor’s Office at Bristol City Council.

I’ve been an apprentice at the Council since November 2015, most recently working as a Business Support Assistant in the Mayor’s Office. This involves carrying out general administration tasks and working closely with the office team to support the Mayor and Cabinet whilst at the same time completing my level 3 Business Administration NVQ.

When people said that you would only do an apprenticeship if you’d failed to get into University, I felt overlooked and cast aside. They said that apprenticeships are for the dumb kids – but that’s not the case. I had already passed my GCSEs and A-Levels before getting my apprenticeship, and now I’ve gained even more experience and skills through becoming an apprentice with Bristol City Council.

As part of the apprenticeship programme I’ve had to do exams and other assessments, including presentations and written work. It’s great how an apprenticeship pushes you out of your comfort zone, but still keeps you supported while you develop.

I have learnt so much over the last two years and massively boosted my confidence, so I would like to make other people aware of the opportunities they can take advantage of through apprenticeships too. Apprenticeships weren’t promoted when I was in school and I feel like there was a pressure on us to go to university. Most people knew very little or nothing at all about apprenticeships so I am passionate about making more people aware of them.  

I also want more employers to understand the value in developing their young people. Employers can encourage and develop a diverse workforce through employing apprentices and it can bring them significant benefits by bringing a different perspective and ideas into their organisations. That’s why I have recently applied to be an Apprenticeships Ambassador and through this I hope to raise awareness by going to events and speaking at schools.

I am looking forward to completing my apprenticeship and receiving my Level 3 qualification and I hope that other people considering their career options take the amazing opportunity to do an apprenticeship too!



International Women’s Day 2018

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

IMG_0043Today is International Women’s Day. It is a special celebration this year as we mark 100 years of women’s suffrage. All across the UK there are events taking place to celebrate the remarkable achievements of women and we hope to inspire our daughters to take up the mantle of their foremothers and continue to make the changes that the world needs.

As one of just seven Centenary Cities in the UK, Bristol has received government funding to stage a series of events throughout the year to celebrate suffrage. This weekend Bristol Women’s Voice held a ‘takeover’ of City Hall. Despite the bad weather and the best efforts of Storm Emma (another strong woman!) hundreds of Bristol’s women came to witness the bands, performances, awards ceremonies, talks, stalls, art, creativity and general buzz of energy that filled our civic heart of the city. A highlight for me is the amazing suffragette balloon sculptures in the lobby of City Hall. They remain on display for International Women’s Day today – pop in and have a look.

The reality is that for most women today is just another day. And for many women, it is another day in fear. In the 100 years since suffrage we have seen little progress in the fight to end gender based violence. Bristol has a high prevalence of reported domestic violence. There are women in our city living in fear of their partner every single day, seven Bristol women were killed by their partner last year. Thousands of children are suffering trauma and damage as a result of living in homes with abuse.

It is time for this city to step up, together, and confront this issue. The painful aftermath of domestic violence and abuse reaches across the city – in schools, housing associations, GP surgeries, maternity wards, hospitals, prisons, mental health units, businesses, charities, churches and beyond. Only by bringing the city together can we make a difference. Today the Mayor and I, along with our Director of Children’s Services, Jacqui Jensen, announced our intention to make tackling domestic violence a key city priority. We met with representatives from key organisations and front line workers to begin to shape our approach to this horrible, violent issue.

Bristol is a City of Sanctuary for all. And on this and every day going forward that must include all women and children.


“No-one can live in a planning permission.”

Yesterday Teresa May gave a speech about planning and housing building in Britain.

This comes on the back of Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Sajid Javid’s intervention over the weekend, where he warned councils not building their fair share of housing would no longer be tolerated.

The Prime Minister talked about developers needing to “do their duty” and build more houses to prevent land-banking of sites where permission has been granted, but not yet come forward. I share the government’s determination to turn around the housing market and we support the government’s initiatives to accelerate housing delivery and progress estate regeneration.

I welcome the government’s focus on this as it is a key policy area for Bristol, and the country as a whole. Bristol is a prosperous city, but, like many cities, we have inherited a housing crisis.

The effects of this crisis are impacting those young people unable able to get their first step on the housing ladder or even afford places to rent. It causes instability in those families struggling to make ends meet as they trade off food, against heat against rent. It undermines our communities as people are shifted around the cities as tenancies are ended in order to move in tenants able to pay higher rents. We know that the biggest cause of people becoming homeless is evictions from the private rented sector. And we have the challenge of gentrification giving rise to social tensions. There is huge pressure on our council housing. In Bristol we have 11,489 applications on the Home Choice council housing register waiting list.

I have worked with the Core Cities to take the initiative in meeting this challenge. Together we have clearly set out to government the housing we could deliver given the right policy and resource support. We pointed out that over the last year councils nationally granted nearly twice as many planning permissions as the number of new homes that were completed. As Lord Porter, chairman of the Local Government Association has said “no-one can live in a planning permission.” We have made the case that housing is more than a wall and roof. It is the key policy tool for health, education and employment and getting it right reduces the demand on all the public services that are required to come in to play when society fails.

We are committed to delivering new homes. One of my key objectives as Mayor is to deliver 2000 new homes per year, of which 800 should be affordable, by 2020. I am confident that through the work Paul Smith and Nicola Beech are doing with our officers and in partnership with Homes England, we are going to reach this target.

However, there remain a number of challenges, some particular to Bristol and others shared across the Core Cities, to accelerating the delivery of new homes. To achieve this we are asking government for action on the following:

Stalled Sites: We want to partner government in its review on stalled permissions. Across our cities we have unbuilt permissions amounting to around three years-worth of housing units at current delivery rates.

Social Housing: Powers and resources to build. Councils have the ability to borrow money for commercial projects but not the equivalent powers to borrow for residential building projects.

Welfare Reform: The links between welfare reforms, homelessness and rough sleeping are evident in our cities. We have examples, particularly on the impacts of changes to Housing Benefits and Universal Credit roll-out, where, with some local adjustments and interventions across a wider range of public services, outcomes could be improved and long-term costs reduced.

Private Rental Sector: Ensuring proper regulation and supporting tenant’s rights, as well as incentivising specialist housing within this sector as part of a comprehensive Housing Deal for a place, linked to local demographic needs.


Cleaning up Bristol’s air

Kye DuddToday’s guest blog comes from my Cabinet lead for Energy, Waste and Regulatory Services, Kye Dudd.

As the cabinet member with responsibility for Energy and Waste, and as a city centre councillor, I know just how important improving air quality is for Bristolians. In our 2016 manifesto, I was proud to stand with Marvin on a Labour manifesto which committed our administration to cleaning up Bristol’s air.

Nearly 100,000 people – a quarter of the city – live within the current Air Quality Management Area. Many more work or go to school in this central part of Bristol. The main routes in and out of our city feed our economy and prosperity, but also bring far too much pollution with them. Almost three-quarters of Bristolians agree that this is a major public health issue, evidenced by the sad statistic that around 300 deaths in our city every year are linked to poor air quality.

Therefore I am pleased to be presenting a report at the cabinet meeting on Tuesday 6 March which will move us closer towards achieving this key mayoral priority.

After feasibility studies funded by central government, we will be considering a variety of plans and interventions: some charging, some not; some covering larger areas, some smaller ones. More than seventy possible options have been narrowed down to five which bring us in compliance with the law in the shortest possible time. All of the options on the table would have a big impact on our air quality, particularly when it comes to reducing the amount of nitrogen dioxide which we breathe in. Each deserves further detailed consideration to understand their effects. We will then decide on the way forward after consulting with local people.

Marvin’s administration has already made progress towards delivering cleaner air, even before next week’s significant step forward. The council is leading from the front, smashing our own carbon emissions reduction target. We are on track to be a clean-energy-powered, carbon neutral city by 2050 – a stronger commitment than those signed up to by national governments as part of the international Paris Climate Agreement. On the back of securing 110 clean bio-gas buses last year, spearheaded by my cabinet colleague Mhairi Threlfall, last month Bristol City Council won an additional £2.2 million to retrofit more than 80 of the city’s oldest, most polluting buses.

This administration is committed to Bristol’s environment. Last week Labour councillors – though sadly opposed by all of the opposition parties, including the Greens –  voted to maintain the council’s multi-million pound investments in renewable energy and heat networks to tackle climate change and reduce fuel poverty.

Next week’s cabinet paper, which includes details about the equalities impact assessment, can be found here.

Working Together to Tackle FGM

Bristol stands together against the crime of Female Genital Mutilation. Every community, every religion, every school are united, with all local leaders firmly behind them. As a city we should be proud of the leadership shown by our anti-FGM charities over many years, including through collaboration with Bristol’s Somali communities and activists.

We should take this opportunity to restate our commitment and redouble our efforts to eradicate this criminal practice.

Education and awareness are crucial to protecting women and girls here in Bristol and across the country. Our city institutions – including Avon & Somerset Police and the NHS – need to continue to improve on their joined-up approach, listening to communities.

Local councillors are playing an important role in their communities around this work, and so much more, as part of my administration. Helen Godwin, my cabinet lead for children, and Ruth Pickersgill, one of Easton’s local councillors, are attending this week’s anti-FGM event as part of ongoing efforts to continue a multi-agency approach: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/bridging-the-gap-international-zero-tolerance-for-fgm-conference-tickets-42495174210

More information about FGM is available on the NHS website: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/female-genital-mutilation-fgm/#getting-help-and-support

If you are concerned about someone who may be at risk of FGM, contact the NSPCC’s free helpline on 0800 028 3550.

Our budget for 2018/19

At this week’s annual budget meeting, Full Council agreed our budget for 2018/19 and our Corporate Strategy for the next five years.

There is a recognition in the city of the challenge that Bristol City Council faces: government cuts and a reducing financial footprint in the face of increasing demand, and a sluggish national economy where the full benefits of the limited growth we do have are not shared by most people in the city.

It is important to understand the context we are in today. We’ve had to take on the consequences of the Tory and Lib-Dem coalition cuts to local authorities that began 2010 and were carried forward by the Tory government from 2015 and have been continued by the weak and wobbly Tory government since 2017.

Bristol City Council has had to make savings of around £233m as a result of less funding from central government since 2010. It has been left to the council and ultimately the people of Bristol to fund services. In its response to this year’s local government finance settlement, the Local Government Association said that by 2020 local government will have lost 75 pence out of every £1 of core central government funding that it had to spend in 2015.

These government cuts contrast with Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to return to municipal socialism, understanding the critical role local government plays in leading and shaping cities, and empowering and funding us to get the job done. For us in Bristol that job is growing a city of aspiration where no one is left behind.

Contrast this with Tory led Northamptonshire County Council which has posted its section 114 notice, an admission of the fact it couldn’t cope. We on the other hand have tabled a balanced budget, minimising impact on frontline services and a balanced budget for the next 4 years in this Medium-Term financial plan.

This is no small thing. Where would you point the public and private investors now, Bristol or Northamptonshire? Our financial competence puts us in a stronger position to be able to deliver our housing and transport plans for Bristol.

Alongside the fiscal responsibility and political leadership on the budget we are making sure that we protect the most vulnerable in society and streamline the council. We are making services more efficient. We’ve already saved over £800k in senior management costs and will save more as we are continuing the restructure.

This budget maintained all 22 of our Children’s Centres and kept the full council tax reduction scheme for the poorest in our city. Children’s Centres are critical to our public health commitment to get every child off to the best possible start in life – a policy priority critical to both social justice and the future financial viability of public services. And we’ll be building on the model with programmes around financial literacy, mental health and parenting skills.

But this budget isn’t just about managing services. It about managing Bristol City Council’s impact on the city and driving the aspiration we have for Bristol. In the next few months we will announce thousands of homes across Temple Quarter, Hengrove, Lockleaze and Southmead. In the Western Harbour we’ll announce homes and a new modernised road and bridge structure. We will announce the plans for the Bristol arena and start work. We have submitted our housing infrastructure bid and are confident in winning this bid following the success in securing millions of pounds from the Marginal Viability Fund for Lockleaze and Southmead, and the Land Release Fund for Filwood. We are on our way to reaching our manifesto commitment to build 2,000 homes a year, 800 of which are affordable, by 2020.

I must say I didn’t understand the Green party voting against the budget, when I had agreed to accept three of their four suggested amendments.  Instead they voted with the Conservatives and Lib-Dems in a regressive alliance, against their own amendments.

I think they are in the right place on many issues and that we would be able to agree on joint approaches. But they miss opportunities for progressive coalitions because of their tendency to weaponise these issues in an attempt to prove moral superiority instead of using them as a rallying point to deliver for Bristol.

This means it is left to us to carry a budget which benefits the city and protects front line services. It is solely down to our Labour administration to bring the financial competence that the city deserves, defend the services and interventions people rely upon and continue to shape the Bristol as a more inclusive city.

Make a difference for the people of Bristol

This is a crucial time for our city and for the council. Bristol has a proud history of innovation and enterprise and this same spirit needs to drive the way we work if we’re truly going to build a better Bristol that includes everyone in the city’s success.

We are therefore redefining our role to better serve the needs of the city and, as part of that, we are recruiting for a number of senior management positions.

This is an opportunity to make a real difference to the lives of people in Bristol. The ideal candidates will of course have the appropriate technical expertise for their roles – but that’s only part of what we’re looking for.

Our city is a place with limitless potential. We want candidates who can help unleash this. They will understand that working for Bristol City Council isn’t just about providing a service – it’s about reinventing our role to enable and empower communities and individuals.

Our city is connected. We’re a UNESCO Learning City, the UK’s smartest city and have received various accolades, all of which wouldn’t have been possible without our many different partners uniting behind them. We want candidates who are accomplished at connecting and inspiring others.

Our city has been described as the best place to live in the UK. We want candidates who understand the people of Bristol, who can empathise with the desires and needs of our diverse population.

But our city also faces major challenges. While there is much we can celebrate, the reality for many is that inequality persists and prevents them from flourishing. We want candidates who are passionate about tackling this head-on, with a burning desire to build a better Bristol for everyone.

If you are, or you know, someone who fits the bill – who has the skills and the compassion to drive a city of hope and aspiration – then we want to hear from you. All the information you need can be found on our recruitment site and I’m looking forward to meeting people who share our vision.