Last weekend, the Cooperative Party held their annual conference in Bristol for the first time since 1929.
You can read the speech I gave at the conference on Sunday below:
It’s great to welcome you all here on this Sunday morning, and I am pleased to welcome this year’s Cooperative Party Conference to Bristol – please don’t leave it another eighty-nine years to come back this time! As I am sure speakers in the debate to follow will agree, the current economic model isn’t working. We saw that in the global financial crisis, the worst since the Great Depression. Since the financial crisis, ordinary people have suffered the worst wage stagnation in almost two centuries. We also saw it in the vote to leave the EU a little over two years ago: the wrong answer to the right questions. This vote included almost ninety thousand Bristolians. Inequality, disenfranchisement, and poverty go to the core of how the economy – how the country – works, or doesn’t, and for who.
And we saw it in last year’s general election result, when the Prime Minister lost her majority. When people voted against the status quo, including in Bristol North West.
There, Darren Jones – a Co-op member and now Labour MP for the constituency where he grew up – took the seat back from the Tories: a clean sweep for Labour in Bristol for the first time since 2001. One seat closer to the transformational Government which our communities are crying out for. Because people want change.
When eight billionaires own the same amount of wealth as the world’s poorest four billion people, something has to give. Politics for people can tackle these global challenges: inequality, migration, climate change. Responsive city leadership has to be at the core of the shift we need in politics. Bristol is a global city, and it is also crucial that cities are not reliant on central government as the sole vehicle of delivery for our citizens. Working together, sharing ideas, co-investing time and money in collaboration – these are key to meeting our shared ambitions for the city and increasingly the country.
One 21-23 October, Bristol will showcase this ethos by hosting almost a hundred mayors of cities from across the globe at a summit aimed at strengthening dialogue between cities in a bid to contribute to tackling the challenges that modern urban living present us with. Future devolution of power and diversification of our economic model will mean that co-operatives can have a big part to play.
It was great to see the commitment to double the sector in last year’s Labour manifesto and, in the New Economics Foundation paper, Co-operatives Unleashed, including work from academics from our local universities. Bristol is known for doing things differently – for experimenting. For innovating. No truer is that than in the diversity of co-operatives which call our city home. From credit unions, to cafés, recycling projects, to allotment associations. Newspapers and solar installers; craft centres and broadband providers. Pioneers in energy generation and storage, and supporters’ clubs, and land trusts. All of them are real community innovators, co-operators who represent and strengthen the diverse fabric of Bristol and its economy. My administration tries to draw on that diversity.
And, despite inheriting a challenging financial situation, at a time of continuing central government austerity, my administration remains determined to deliver our goal of ensuring that Bristol is a city in which nobody is left behind. The most important mechanism for this is by putting partnership working at the heart of all we do. The fundamental nature of what the local authority is and does is changing, and a key challenge lies in shifting perceptions from seeing it as simply a provider of services to a development organisation. This means making the most of the skills and resources that are available across the city, and taking on collective responsibility. Our One City Approach is central to this. It is a new way to harness the collective power and influence of a whole city in tackling societal challenges such as mental health, affordable housing, and sustainable growth. It represents a ground-breaking new model for city sovereignty.
The One City Approach:
-Puts innovation and collaboration at the heart of city activity;
-Provides a single city vision for 2050 that city stakeholders can get behind;
-Brings city leaders together to solve long-term, complex challenges which require a common focus;
-Fast-tracks the city on its journey to become fairer, healthier, and more sustainable;
-And spans the public, private, academic and voluntary sectors.
Preston has also rightly won praise and headlines for its model. Its principles also sit at the core of what we’ve been trying to do here in Bristol. Place-based development. Local economic growth. Community wealth building. Our social value policy has already seen almost 150 apprenticeships created through council contractors and our target of spending 25% of the total procurement budget with Small and Medium-sized enterprises been exceeded. We are now within touching distance of the 40% mark. New contracts have seen more than a third of the council’s spend remain within Bristol, with a further eighth in the south west region. We all hope that procurement rules strengthened earlier this year make even more progress.
Our award-winning council-owned companies continue to deliver services for local people, the biggest council contracts are being broken up to allow smaller and social providers to bid more competitively, including co-operatives, and – even before Carillion’s collapse – this Labour council was in-sourcing, not out-sourcing, public services. All of this is testament to our majority Labour Group on the council, which includes six local Labour and Co-operative councillors: Tom Brook, Mark Brain, Brenda Massey, Mike Langley, Mark Bradshaw, and Fabian Breckels. Many more are members and have been at this weekend’s conference and, I know, are looking to join the party.
In particular, I want to highlight the work of Cllr Tom Brook. Tom represented Bristol at your Local Government conference earlier this year. He highlighted Bristol’s work at the forefront of supply chain transparency, more ethical working practices, and efforts to tackle the scourge of modern slavery – Tom deserves a lot of credit for his hard work as the Bristol Co-operative councillors’ convenor. I was proud to sign the charter, and am even prouder of Bristol for being at the forefront of this work across local government, together with the Co-operative Party and organisations like TISC report, who are based here in Bristol.
Equality, fairness, and diversity are at the heart of our movement. Our Inclusive and Sustainable Growth Strategy reflects our commitment to those values. We are prioritising our aim of being a city in which nobody is left behind. Our approach to economic growth stems from underlying principle that the economy is about people and their shared lives, not simply about business. Growth is necessary to improve people’s lives, life chances, and choices.
Inclusion is an active driver of growth, not as a moral add-on to our economic thinking. Our vision is that everyone is given the chance to participate in the creation of growth as well as benefitting from it. Our strategy also covers boosting the ‘inclusion infrastructure’ necessary to overcome barriers to work. This includes affordable and accessible childcare, transport and ultrafast broadband. The council has to lead from the front, and these values are being practiced as well as preached at City Hall. Our administration are the only core city with a pay ratio lower than 10:1 for council staff – half of the 20:1 public sector target set out by Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn – and have made unprecedented efforts to reduce City Hall senior management by £1.6 million.
And, thanks to the efforts of Labour and Labour-Coop councillors over a number of years, including in opposition, have implemented the Living Wage for the whole local authority. Efforts to ensure all contractors do too continue. We are also considering a Bristol-specific Living Wage, for employers to demonstrate their commitment to their greatest assets and to further tackle in-work poverty. Of all the organisations audited in Bristol, our Labour-run Council ranked the best in the city for equal pay. With more women councillors than all of the other parties combined, and a cabinet where six out of nine councillors are women, we are proud to reflect the diversity of the city and committed to completely closing the gender pay gap once and for all.
Just this week, the council has also been shown to have amongst the highest levels of BME representation in the local public sector. That’s welcome but when the proportion of ethnic minority employees decreases as the pay bands increase, there’s still much more to do and so we have introduced leadership and training programmes for all under-represented groups to help ensure that, at every level, the council looks like the city it serves. And after all, diverse workforces increase creativity, innovation, productivity, and prosperity.
I also want to highlight our work around housing and say that housing co-ops and shared ownership schemes should definitely be part of the solution to the city’s housing crisis. They have a big role to play alongside our housing association grant programme, which is currently delivering over 200 affordable rented homes with over 300 potentially in the pipeline. On day one of my administration, we stopped my predecessor’s council house fire-sale and are progressing Bristol’s biggest council-house building project in a generation.
But, not everyone is on board. Last week, one opposition councillor – the Leader of the Lib Dems – described building affordable homes as a ‘vanity project’. But we know there’s nothing vain about lifting people out of rent poverty. And there’s nothing vain about helping them off of housing lists and onto the property ladder. More than a few eyebrows were raised when I promised to ensure that, by 2020, 2,000 new homes – including 800 affordable – were being built each year in Bristol.
Next year almost 2,900 new homes will be built in the city. Almost 50 per cent more than promised. And projections show that the year after – 2020 – we will hit our target of building 800 new affordable homes per year. But, as far as we’ve come in two short years, there’s even more which we can do and will do. Two of my local Councillors – Tom Brook and Labour Group Leader Margaret Hickman – have been working hard on how we deliver transformational change.
Cllr Sharon Taylor from Stevenage, who chairs the Co-operative Councils Innovation Network, has also been in Bristol lately, sharing best practice from around the country.
I can now confirm that Bristol will be joining this network as soon as possible to continue to build a better city for Bristolians.