Author Archives: marvinjrees

Notes on Being Black.

Today’s guest blog from Laurell Jarrett Anderson. Laurell shares the piece, Notes on Being Black., which earned her a senior runners-up spot in the 2021 Orwell Youth Prize, as first published by the Orwell Foundation.

“This writer conveys an important message through a strong and personal tone. Their research skills and attention to detail contribute to an overall excellent piece, exploring racial issues within a modern context. With a particularly powerful analysis of racism online and in the media, it’s a piece which must be read and understood by everyone using such platforms.” – Jessica Johnson

Notes on Being Black.

I had come across a book called ‘Loud black girls’ last year and being so intrigued by the title alone, I purchased it straight away. It told me that “Being a loud black girl isn’t about the volume of your voice- and using your voice doesn’t always mean speaking the loudest or dominating the room.”[1] I was reminded of the stigmatization that came with being a black girl and found myself repeating ‘that’s so true!’ or ‘that’s happened to me!’ as I read each page. The black community shares so many of the same experiences and relate to each other in so many different ways, despite the irony that we are often talked about as if we are one person. We live in a society that has shown us how white people stay in the spotlight while black people are kept behind the curtain, their talent and hard work going without credit. So many years have gone by, yet most of the same issues that black people faced around discrimination and racism back then, are the same today. Despite the protests, laws and even the Black Lives Matter movement, issues that we faced over 70 years ago are still rife in today. Here are some notes on being black that I think are worth listening to.

‘Racism is not getting worse, it’s getting filmed.’

The media is something that touches all lives in some way, so heavily influenced by what we see and read in everyday life, including social media. Apart from being so eager to find out what celebrities are up to online, there’s a much darker and more damaging side to being so easily exposed to what we see. The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmuad Arbery, Elijah McClain and many other innocent black lives lost due to racism and police brutality, have highlighted the systematic racism that prevailed not only in America, but all parts of the world and a lot closer to home. There is a lot of distressing content in the news and videos that are shared online, often without any warning. “Staying away from socials just to avoid hearing the blood curdling agony in George Floyds voice again and again.”[2]- This was what singer, actress and businesswoman Rihanna posted last summer in support of justice for George Floyd and other black citizens who have died. Videos like these circulated on the internet, making it hard to escape from the devastating murders that were happening in America, and also had a big impact on our mental health and wellbeing. Seeing black people persecuted, arrested and abused all the time is traumatic. More can and must be done to identify and abolish racial hatred within the police force, as well a safer way of spreading awareness of police brutality and murder in the media that is cautious and understanding of black peoples mental health, because as said by Will Smith: “Racism is not getting worse, it’s getting filmed.”[3]

‘Appreciation not appropriation’

Whilst racism and hate crime is an obvious act of prejudice, there is so much else happening that has been normalised. For example, the commedical and ridiculing representation of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) by non-black people and ‘blackfishing’ online, the phenomenon of non-black influencers and public figures using bronzer, tanning, Photoshop, or even cosmetic surgery to change their looks to appear black or mixed race. One time I read online that people were debating whether or not saying ‘black people’ to refer to, well, black people, was offensive or not. The problem with this is that people are assuming the word ‘black’ has negative connotations in the first place, adding to the problem even more. These not so important twitter debates, shifts our focus onto less relevant news and activism. There is so much more behind a word. The way we present ourselves is so much more than just a hairstyle. The appropriation of black women in particular is further established by celebrities spending fortunes on huge lips, skin tanned too dark and having surgery that can now give them unrealistically wide hips. The standard physical attributes of a black woman have been popularised and colonized by white women who had once oppressed black women for their natural features. American TV series like ‘The real housewives of Atlanta’[4], explicit music videos targeted at the black community and other forms of popular culture have also shamelessly pioneered the ‘black woman’, depicting us as loud, aggressive and hypersexualised, just for entertainment.

‘You’re not what we’re looking for’

In the past, there has been nowhere near as much representation for people of colour interested in cosmetics or hair compared to the western beauty standards that celebrate ‘whiteness’, in fact, this can still be seen today. A message that has probably been drilled into every black girl’s head is that “you’re going to have to work even harder than everyone one else because you have two strikes against you- your gender and race.” I often find that as a black girl, everything we search up about ourselves has to be marked: ‘Black girl hairstyles’ or ‘Black girl makeup routine’. When I was younger, I was given the rare beauty magazine for black women- that was only sold in black hair shops. Once a month. I was also the only black girl in my class at primary school (until one other girl joined in year 5) so people would always touch my hair and ask me why I didn’t just straighten it to fit in. I share my experiences with many black girls all over the world, but this goes a lot deeper than just magazines and childhood memories. It’s compounded by seeing brands and publications that have historically excluded and marginalized Black people, yet now share messages of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Where was this solidarity when Black people were applying for jobs? A study by the centre for social investigation at Nuffield College found that minority ethnic applicants had to send 60 per cent more applications to get a positive response from an employer than a person of white british origin. These results were compared with similar field experiments dating back to 1969, revealing that this type of discrimination has remained unchanged for over 50 years. [5]

‘This world does not move without black creativity’

More emerging black artists, creatives, engineers and scientists are pushing through the industry barriers and making their voices heard. Although we are tired of not seeing enough black people in executive roles, and the systematic disenfranchisement that exists within these industries. Not enough has been done to support black people into executive roles in the creative industry, even though black culture is unquestionably one of the most popular and sought after ‘aesthetics’ amongst mainstream media, from music to fashion and art. Since the Black Lives Matter protests more people have woken up to the reality of how the black community is not, and has never really been, represented or credited in mainstream brands/ businesses. The societal realisation of how black individuals go on to achieve despite the prejudices and institutional racism they encounter, has resulted in the mass emergence of ‘Diversity and Inclusion programmes’ that in progressively diversifying their business by allowing the ‘best’ black candidates to occupy the same roles that dismissed them in the first place. We have always been silenced and stereotyped, preventing us from getting executive roles for years. We have been labelled as the ‘angry black girl’ at school and always had to run that extra mile in order to be given the equal opportunities, whilst constantly being pulled down by white privilege. This is an evolving conversation, and it requires evolving education.[6] It’s now 2021 and young black children who are interested in art, history, sports, fashion, science or engineering need to be able to see successful and affluent people in those industries who look like them, in order to be inspired and achieve. So how can we move forward? Well, we can begin by understanding and recognising the exploitation that black people still face within the media for profit and entertainment, enabling the promotion of black culture to become more well known as something positive. Secondly, give black people the jobs and platforms so that they can achieve and earn just as much as their white counterparts, ending a cycle of career deprivation and unemployment. This world does not move without black creativity [7], so it’s about time we start appreciating it.


1. Loud Black Girls: 20 Black Women Writers Ask: What’s Next? (1 October 2020)

2. Rihanna Laments ‘Blood Curdling Agony’ of George Floyd’s Death (30 May 2020)

3. Will Smith: “Racism Is Not Getting Worse, It’s Getting Filmed” (3 August 2016)

4. The Real Housewives of Atlanta (2008)


6. “Racism Is A Global Issue”: Edward Enninful On The Importance Of Cultivating An Anti-Racist Agenda (1
June 2020)

7. #blkcreatives (pronounced hashtag Black creatives) was created by Melissa Kimble to uplift Black creatives
+ remind us of our creative freedom.(17 June 2020)

Bristol’s Pesticide Amnesty and the UN Biodiversity Conference

Today’s guest blog is from Savita Willmott, CEO of the Natural History Consortium

The UK is preparing to welcome the world to Glasgow on 31 October for COP26, the UN Climate Change Conference.  There are no shortage of lead-up events in Bristol, and across the UK, as organisations prepare to influence the significant discussions.  

Last week, a different group of leaders participated in the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15). Covid has affected many international meetings and events, and this one is no different. The decision was taken to have the initial conversations online then bring international leaders together in Kunming next spring. The summary from the online meeting indicates commitment from countries around the world to spend the next few months negotiating a significant framework to be agreed in May.  

It is now widely understood and agreed that our net zero and nature positive ambitions are, and must be, linked. In Bristol, our One City Climate Strategy and One City Ecological Emergency Strategy must be addressed together as we tackle our city’s environmental emergencies.  

As we keep our eye on the international declarations and agreements, we must focus on taking action locally. One of the four targets of the One City Ecological Emergency Strategy is to reduce the city’s pesticide use by 50% by 2030. To help everyone get started,  The Natural History Consortium is running the UK’s first household Pesticide Amnesty on October 23rd and 24th,. Collections will be at Redcatch Park on October 23rd between 11am and 3pm, and at Blaise Nursery on October 24th between 11am and 3pm. Residents of Bristol are encouraged to have a ‘garden shed’ clear out at the end of the growing season and bring along garden and household pesticides in return for a free pack of wildflower seeds and information on pesticide-free alternatives.  

After the events, all containers will be safely disposed by Bristol Waste, and a log of everything handed in will be used for a major citizen science project in partnership with University of Bristol School of Chemistry.  The university will be supporting a final year student to develop a new experiment for future students to examine soil samples across the city, to monitoring change over time focusing on the most popular chemicals from the pesticide amnesty. 

Join us – and take action for nature! 

State of the City 2021

*check against delivery*

Last week, our city faced the tragedy of a young man killed on our streets.

I extend my respects to his family and do want to share that I have received numerous messages from people telling me that he was, at heart, a good young person who just needed support.

I had actually met him myself and had invited him to come for a cup of tea but sadly we never got to do that.  

His tragic death should remind us that we all have different experiences of Bristol and we must respect those differences if we are to build an inclusive city.

I have some thanks to give now.

Thank you, Hugh Brady for again hosting my annual State of the City address, we wish you all the best for your next chapter in life as the Vice Chancellor of Imperial College London.

The work you have done to develop a civic university and deliver the new Temple Quarter campus, leaves a real legacy.

And thank you to Andrew Kelly.

Andrew has been CEO of Festival of Ideas – now Bristol Ideas – for 29 years.

He has contributed hugely to Bristol’s cultural life and the quality of our public discourse, making Bristol better and raising our profile on the national and international stage. 

And I also want to thank you, Bristol.

This is my first State of the City since being re-elected.

The mayoral position isn’t mine.

It’s loaned to me by you, and I thank you for entrusting it into my care again.

Coronavirus and the syndemic

We are 18 months on from the first covid lockdown.

From the beginning we explained we were not just dealing with the virus itself, but the consequences of the actions needed to stem the spread of the virus.

We have seen the impact – death and bereavement, the disruption to education, loneliness, hunger, mental health, domestic violence and job losses.

At the same time, our underlying inequalities have been compounded as the most marginalised have been hit first and hardest and then found themselves least well placed to benefit from any recovery.     

We will be living with the effects of the pandemic for decades.

That makes it all the more important that we don’t allow the pain to be for nothing.

There are three interdependent lessons we have the opportunity to learn, if we choose to.

The First reinforces points I shared in my address last year.

I cited Richard Horton from The Lancet. 

He argued we aren’t suffering merely from a pandemic but a syndemic, in which two categories of disease are interacting: the communicable disease, Covid 19, and the non-communicable diseases that cluster around poverty and inequality. 

He said:

“The most important consequence of seeing COVID-19 as a syndemic is to underline its social origins. The vulnerability of older citizens; Black, Asian, and minority ethnic communities; and key workers who are commonly poorly paid with fewer welfare protections, points to a truth so far barely acknowledged…. that unless governments devise policies and programmes to reverse profound disparities, our societies will never be truly COVID secure.

“The economic crisis that is advancing towards us will not be solved by a drug or a vaccine. Nothing less than national revival is needed. Approaching COVID-19 as a syndemic will invite a larger vision, one encompassing education, employment, housing, food, and environment.”

And so we must have that broader vision.

If we don’t then we will remain individually and collectively vulnerable to future health shocks with all their consequences.

And it’s this collective vulnerability that takes tackling social inequality beyond an issue of social justice and makes it an issue of national security.

In this respect, we can learn from Bristol’s past. 

In 1832, Cholera killed 584 Bristolians from a population of 96,000.

The poorest were hit hardest, the impact exacerbated by overcrowded and unsanitary conditions in slums and workhouses.

We came to learn that while water was the means for transmission it was the drivers and consequences of poverty that were the accelerants.

Both then and today, the resilience and weakness of population health are not just bio-medical questions, they are determined by social conditions, themselves the product of political and economic systems.   

Second, covid has humbled us and warned us.

It has given us a taste of a natural world reasserting its authority.

In the modern era we have believed that we have the ability to control things; that whatever the crisis, “someone somewhere” could solve it.

We could decide not to go to war, or to feed hungry people or to house the homeless.

But we have tasted living in a world in which no-one, no-where could make a decision to end the crisis.

Until we had the vaccine, the virus stopped us in our tracks – the economy stopped, elections were postponed, schools were closed, and our flagship public service teetered on the edge of being overwhelmed.

We do have the vaccine and, with it, the hope that we will eventually be able to live with covid.

The Climate Emergency

We now need to apply that experience of loss of control to the Climate Emergency.

If we pass the tipping point, there will be no hope for recovery. 

Weather chaos and disorder will feed on each other with rapidly worsening social, economic, and political consequences.  

This threat points to what Civil Rights activist and Harvard scholar Marshal Ganz called the “urgency of the now”.

And this leads to the third insight, which is the importance of cities.

Climate change will be won or lost in cities.

Cities are home to over half of the world’s people.

They consume over 70% of the world’s energy and generate three quarters of global carbon emissions.

Cities do offer amongst the most sustainable lifestyles.

Higher density living can offer lower carbon footprints than sprawling settlements, if they are done right.

The Former Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, said “most of the things that make cities better, cleaner, healthier, and more economically productive places also reduce carbon emissions”.

It’s a simple statement containing a profound truth that cities are the places where good social policy will lessen the carbon footprints of the greatest number of people and offer the greatest opportunity to minimise the price the planet plays for our growing world population. 

So, we have two major crises, the pandemic and climate, pointing us to the need to expedite delivery of progressive social policy and better living conditions, through cities.

Let me take you through some of the ways we are doing that in our city. 


On climate, we have worked with the city to agree and collectively commit to the One City climate strategy and it’s 2030 carbon neutral and climate resilience targets.

We launched our Ecological Emergency Action Plan last month.

The plan was led by Avon Wildlife Trust and developed with 36 organisations.

It commits us to:

  • 30 per cent of our land being managed for nature;
  • A 50% reduction in the use of pesticides;
  • 100% of Bristol’s waterways being fit to support healthy wildlife;
  • And a reduction of products that undermine the health of wildlife and ecosystems.

We have invested £42m on retrofitting council-owned homes, with:

  • 6,500 homes having had gas boilers replaced
  • 800 houses and 1,000 flats have wall insulation
  • 1,000 have new insulated roofs
  • 2,500 have double glazed replacements
  • 2,000 have had loft insulation top ups

Today, 99% of publicly owned homes have double glazing, 98% have insulated cavity walls. 

We’ve also planted 70,000 new trees through One Tree Per Child, a programme commenced by my predecessor George and continued by us.

More than 9,000 were planted last year, including Bristol’s first mini forest in Southmead. A business scheme has set a target to plant 250,000 trees.

All this contributes to our One City Plan goal to double the tree canopy by 2046.

And we are working with the University of Manchester and the Met Office to understand our city’s vulnerability to overheating and how we can protect ourselves from severe heat waves. 

We’ve invested £22 million in renewable energy projects and low carbon heat networks.

Our district heating network already serves Old Market, Redcliffe and Hartcliffe – with Bedminster, Temple Quarter and St Phillips soon to join them.

We are installing a zero carbon water source heat pump in Castle Park that will heat 1,000 council homes and Castle Park View, and the Bedminster heat network will source its energy from waste water.

Bristol City Funds has invested £750,000 in Ambition Lawrence Weston’s wind turbine, that will  provide renewable energy to over 4,000 homes.

And our City Leap partnership promises to transform our relationship with energy through a £1 billion investment package to support system change from the generation and distribution to the storage and smart usage of energy.

We are building new flood defences at Avonmouth and Severnside. 

This is an incredible scheme that combines flood protection with restored natural wetland habitats.   

We are working with the Environment Agency to deliver flood defences for the city centre and the land along the River Avon.   

We are working with developers to build flood defences into new developments in flood plain areas.

And as the country starts asking Government how it will fund its zero carbon strategy, we are already working with the World Economic Forum and the UK Cities Climate Investment Commission, to connect cities with the public and private finance we need to fund our de-carbonisation.

The cost of decarbonising Bristol alone is nearly £10 billion and this is part of the 200 plus billion package needed to de-carbonise the UK’s Core Cities and London. 


We will have built some 9,000 new homes, in the past five years, by the end of this year, with 12,000 more homes with planning permissions in the pipeline, having been delayed by Covid and Brexit.  

We have 173 homes being built by BoKlok on Airport Way.

In Lockleaze, we have 185 homes in Bonnington Walk – and 268 homes in Romney House, being built by our council owned company, Goram Homes.    

And many more.

We have at least 1,400 new homes on their way in Hengrove.

Not only will around 50% of these be affordable but they will set a benchmark for offsite modern construction methods and low carbon development.

And now, with Bristol Zoo relocating, we have an incredible opportunity to deliver affordable homes in Clifton.

We have set ourselves another stretching target of 2,000 homes a year by 2024 and we have set up ‘Project 1,000’, a council board whose sole aim is to deliver 1,000 affordable homes a year by 2024. 

On top of that:

  • We’ve launched an estate renewal programme;
  • We’re overhauling HomeChoice;
  • We’ve extended the moratorium on evictions for council tenants;
  • We’ve joined the advisory board of The Kerslake Commission, on ending rough sleeping;
  • And we’ll become a Living Rent City.


On transport, our flagship policy remains the mass transit system including the underground.

All routes have been identified linking the north, east, south, and airport to the city centre.

It will integrate buses and trains and include new stations, to form a transformative, low carbon transport system.

We laid the foundations with our Bus Deal with First Bus.

This gives priority to bus travel to support growth in passenger numbers.

This is a key step in building the business case that will secure the over £4billion investment needed for the mass transit system.

We’ve introduced bus prioritisation including bus gates on Bristol Bridge and Baldwin Street. This has increased reliability and taken five minutes off bus journeys through the centre.

We delivered new City Centre bike lanes, pedestrianised the Old City, King Street, Cotham Hill, Princess Victoria Street, and four pilots are now running for School Streets, closing roads outside schools at drop off and pick up time.

We are about to launch a consultation on the introduction of bus prioritisation for the Wells Road, to the city centre, over the Downs and the whole length of the A4018. 

We will ask you to comment on proposals to remove parking that causes congestion on key routes and the closure of Park Street to private cars.

This has the potential to re-invent public realm up to the Triangle and remove rat runs from the Downs.

We submitted the full business case for the Clean Air Zone which will come into force next year.

We are negotiating with Government a package of support including:

  • £2 million for clean buses;
  • £720,000 for a new cycle scheme through Old Market;
  • Free electric bike loans and cycle training;
  • Free bus tickets;
  • Discounts on car club membership;
  • Support to buy electric cars;
  • And financial support for business and residents to upgrade polluting vehicles.

We estimate the CAZ will reduce traffic travelling into the City Centre by approximately 2,000 vehicles per day, while delivering protections for lower paid workers, hospital patients and visitors, and blue badge holders.  

Over half a century ago, Bristol lost its trams and, twenty years ago, lost out on an opportunity for ‘supertrams’.

This was down to poor leadership, impenetrable council structures, and regional squabbles.

We have the opportunity today to get beyond these historical failures and deliver something transformative.

We need government funding and we must ensure the West Of England Combined Authority unlocks the investment Bristol and the city region needs.

We need substance, not soundbites.    


We are fixing the city’s aging infrastructure, the Chocolate Path, key bridges around the city, the sea walls and our road network.

These have been deteriorating for decades with no clear plan for their maintenance.

We now have a plan and a capital strategy in place.

We’ve also taken on the new infrastructure challenges such as the arena where we showed our ability to make the right decision rather than the politically convenient decision.

The  YTL Bristol Area is on track to open in early 2024 and the Massive Attack gig showed us people can and will travel from all parts of the city and beyond. 

And repurposing the aircraft hangers rather than building a city centre arena from scratch was the right thing for the environment.  

Using the footprint and fabric of the existing buildings saves 21,400 cubic metres of concrete, the excavation and removal of 28,000 cubic metres of soil, and the manufacturing and transportation of 4,000 tonnes of steel.

The environmental impact of the Temple Island Arena, in development and production in steel alone, would be the equivalent of 13,000 flights from Heathrow to New York.

Contrast this with YTL’s building of one of the most environmentally sustainable arenas in the world, with solar panels, reused rainwater, and a sustainable transport plan. And of course, all at no cost to the taxpayer.

Social care

On social care, we’ve been tackling the crisis that is local government finance. 

The real costs of Covid and over a decade of austerity mean that the city again faces the challenge of an under-funded council budget. 

We are working through the numbers but, as of today, we have a potential shortfall of £42million, that may lead to more difficult decisions for the city.

Other cities have similar challenges.

Projected shortfalls in other Core Cities range from £15 million to £65 million.

Covid has accelerated the already increasing demand for adult social care at the same time as the cost of care services has increased.

We’ve had a 21% increase in mental health demand at a cost of £4 million a year.

There’s been a £45 per person per week increase in unit costs for Learning Disability services resulting in costs increasing by more than £3 million per year.

And we are now finding care providers unable to recruit workers to fill their positions, contributing to 115 ‘handbacks’ from domiciliary care providers, driven by an increase in the availability of higher-paid employment in other sectors; reduced access to EU nationals due to Brexit; and an increased demand for care staff in other organisations, including the NHS.

As we have accelerated delivery for Bristol, taking on opportunities and challenges, we have experienced increasing opposition, resisting change and highlighting the downside of every intervention.

The truth is no intervention comes without risk and cost.

But, as Shirley Williams said “there are hazards in anything one does, but greater hazards in doing nothing”.

Bristol is a city of 42 square miles.  We aren’t getting any more land. 

We have a residential population of around 460,000 people which is expected to grow to 550,000 by 2050.

The population grows to over a million people when the workforce travels in.

We have more than 15,000 people on our housing waiting list, with over 1,100 families in temporary accommodation.

1 in 5 of our children live in low-income households.

In 2015, the Runnymede Trust ranked Bristol as the 7th worst area of England for racial inequality and went on to charge that “ethnic minorities in Bristol experience greater disadvantage than in England and Wales, in education and employment.”

While almost 100% of Clifton teenagers progress to university, it’s just 1 in 12 in Hartcliffe.

Almost 10% of our households experience fuel poverty and 4% experience moderate to severe food insecurity.

There is a gap in healthy years life expectancy of over 16 years between the richest and poorest areas in Bristol.

We need the city and public leaders to agree and hold themselves accountable to the depth and complexity of these challenges.

There is not a different kind of reality.

As the University of Virginia’s Professor Gerry Warburg said: “you’re entitled to your own opinions, not your own facts”.


Bristol has been a city with a high profile of activism over the years.

And activism is welcome and valuable but in and of itself, is not enough.

In September’s Full Council, three people made statements, in turn. 

The first argued against housebuilding on Western Slopes and urban sprawl. 

The second, concerned about private rents, told me to sort out the housing crisis – that would require me to build homes.  

The third made a statement against children living in tall buildings and there is of course a wider campaign against height.

I suggested that they all need to talk to each other.   

All three made an argument, that to be solved, required compromise from the other two. 

It’s fine to point at me but what’s needed is a city conversation.

To solve the complexity of the problems in our city, we all need to work together and be on receive as well as transmit. 

I’ve learnt those lessons.

In my 20s, I was all transmit.

In 2000, I was protesting outside the World Bank in Washington, DC, with a crowd, shouting at low paid security workers, for defending neo-liberalism. 

That’s activism at its worst, more focussed on the emotional gratification and of the activists’ brand than the outcomes of the cause they are fighting for.   

The historian and writer Paul Gilroy said: “It is imperative to remain less interested in who or what we imagine ourselves to be than in what we can do for one another”.

At its best, activism creates the conditions for and builds the unlikely alliances that make more radical politics possible.   

In 1964, President Lyndon B Johnson succeeded in bringing the Civil Rights Act into law. 

Martin Luther King Jr then approached Johnson, congratulated him, and said ‘now we need a Voting Rights Act. 

Johnson told King he couldn’t do it as he had cashed in all of his political capital to deliver the Civil Rights Act.  

So King organised the Selma March.

Many of you will know the marchers were brutally attacked by police.

But the world was watching and this changed the political climate.

It was a new climate that only made the Voting Rights Act possible but necessary.

On the 6th of August 1965, the Bill was signed by President Johnson, banning States from passing laws prohibiting voting laws based on race, and bringing into force what is often described as the most effective civil rights law ever enacted and changing America forever.   

People often say we haven’t got time to waste but it is also true that we haven’t got time to get it wrong.

We need a new settlement in how we understand each other and work together.

National and international leadership

We rarely talk about our global and national leadership but we should be proud.

What happens in Bristol isn’t just down to the decisions we make. 

We are shaped by national and international events.

To serve Bristol fully, we must be able to shape the context within which Bristol has to live, and exert influence over those external forces that impact on life in our city.

Trying to tackle city challenges without tackling this context is like straining gnats while swallowing camels.

I sit on the Mayor’s Migration Council and the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Cities of Tomorrow.

I sit on the UK Cities Climate Investment Commission, where we have identified over £200 billion of de-carbonisation opportunities across the Core Cities and London.

This year, I was asked to become of chair the Local Government Association’s City Regions Board. 

I also sit on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Housing Commission, Gordon Brown’s Commission on the UK’s Future, on the advisory panel of the Work Foundation.

Bristol plays a leading role in the Global Parliament of Mayors, Eurocities, UK100, Core Cities and helped to set up the Western Gateway.

We have set up our own International Strategy Board to mobilise city partners to represent us on the global stage.

As part of that, today we can announce the appointment of three new international ambassadors for the city.

They are:

  • Marti Burgess, Partner at Bevan Brittan and Chair of Black South West Network;
  • Clare Reddington, the CEO of Watershed; 
  • Fuad Mahamed, CEO and Founder of Ashley Community Housing.

Welcome to the role and I know you will all promote Bristol brilliantly, joining our existing alumni of city ambassadors. 

History Commission

I want to finish tonight by thanking the members of the History Commission. They have shown emotionally intelligent leadership as we navigate a challenging time in Bristol’s history, following the hauling down of Colston’s statue.

They helped put together an excellent display in the M-Shed and received 14,000 responses to their survey on the future of the statue.

Their work will help us to understand our own past, bringing a fuller understanding of how our city has become what it is today.  

Our past has been shaped by poverty and slum clearances, investment, slavery, wars, strikes, protest, Chartists and Suffragettes, the harbour and the docks, manufacturing, innovation and technology, migration, faith, and much more.

Within that, we have our difficulties and our demons.

We have our highs and our heroes, including those who we are yet to learn about. 

At the same time, building on the History Commission’s ‘Bridging Histories’ programme, our culture team is working towards a family history project, that will support people understand their own personal history, and why their families came here or why their families were displaced to the parts of Bristol that they were born in.

Looking at this opportunity, I have started to look at my own family tree and, during a recent trip in which I saw my Jamaican family, I discovered an important part of my own history.  

Samuel Richardson was hung by the British.  

In 1865, not far from Kingston, Jamaica, in Morant Bay, a popular Baptist preacher Paul Bogle led the rescue of a black man who had been arrested for trespassing on an abandoned former sugar plantation.

Hundreds of people joined him as he led a call for reform.

Troops were sent and spent weeks indiscriminately killing black Jamaicans.

Executions followed and among those was Samuel Richardson, my great, great, great grandfather.

I have thought about him since finding out, how he felt when he stood on the gallows and wondered about descendants to come.

Discovering him has made me, more me.

I encourage you all to join in this project and uncover your own family history.

Those histories are our history and will make us more Bristol.


I’ve spoken tonight about the conflicting pressures alongside the fundamental challenges both now and in the future and our need to deliver.

To deliver at the scale and pace of change we need, we must be honest about the nature of those challenges, make space for alliances, and bring the many with us – keeping the city together. 

We must be solutions focussed.  

As The novelist, Raymond Williams said: ‘To be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing.’

Let’s choose hope.

Thank you.

Our Belonging Strategy

Today’s guest blog is from Councillor Asher Craig, Deputy Mayor for Children Services, Education and Equalities and Labour Councillor for St George West ward.

On 18th October we will launch our new Belonging Strategy 2021-2024 for children and families. This new strategy sets out how we will continue to work as a city to ensure that this is a city for all children and young people, one which young people can be proud of and a place where they and their families can thrive.

Co-constructed with local children, young people and parents/carers, we asked Bristol’s children and young people if they see themselves, their histories, cultures and identities reflected in their city. We also asked them how it feels to grow up here and what more we should do to ensure that families can thrive and children achieve their ambitions, and how can we create communities and a city that belongs to us all – one in which everyone sees themselves and benefits from its success.

The result is our Belonging Strategy – a true One City approach to achieving what children, young people and families want for themselves. It focuses on how we work together across health, education, voluntary, community and business sectors as well as across the council to empower families and be ready with a little extra help when it’s needed to ensure we have strong, resilient families in safe and inclusive communities and a city that children and young people feel able to own.

One City partners will be working together through the Children and Young People’s One City Board to drive our work on inclusion, equality and social justice in Bristol.

Our work on Belonging has been organised into four themes, and a strategy has been developed for each of these, as follows:

•            Belonging from the Beginning

•            Belonging in Education

•            Belonging in Families

•            Belonging in the Community

These strategies support and will deliver on the intentions of the Bristol One City Plan, the Bristol Children’s Charter, and the Bristol Equalities Charter.

COVID-19 has had a massive impact on children and young people, some of the impacts we have yet to see, they account for around 20% of our population but they are 100% of our future, if we want to recover within a generation and provide an excellent future for the city, we have to work together and invest in our children and young people now. The Belonging Strategy provides a road map setting out how we will do this.

Local Democracy Week

Today’s guest blog is from Alderwoman Marg Hickman, who was conferred with the title on Tuesday – after representing Lawrence Hill for ten years and also serving in my Cabinet and as Leader of the Bristol Labour Group – as we mark Local Democracy Week 2021.

Her ceremony and speech at Extraordinary Full Council is available to watch back from 32:35 and reproduced below.

“Being made an Alderwoman is a real civic honour, though not nearly as much of a privilege as I found serving the people of Lawrence Hill for ten years.

“I most enjoyed getting to know the communities of the ward and would like to think that, feeding in that daily local intelligence, I was able to help us make a positive and lasting difference to their lives.

“This is surely the only real reason why anyone stands for election.

“I am proud to have seen Marvin re-elected to continue to do just that,
and I am proud to carry on serving as a trustee of Felix Road Adventure Playground, which continues to go from strength to strength.

“During my time on the council, I met lots of dedicated councillors and council officers – all trying their best, all trying to do much more with far less over the past decade. Over the past eighteen months of the pandemic, Bristol’s local authority key workers have rightly, at long last, had some of the wider recognition that we know they richly deserve.

“One of my lower points may have been getting overheard, unmuted, during my last Budget meeting – but I console myself that it was not as bad as Handforth Council’s webcast, or the Department of Health’s CCTV!

“I was also proud to serve on the Women’s Commission, and I know that we still have more work to do to make this chamber look like the city it’s there to serve – especially in terms of female representation.

“Having chaired and then led the Labour Group for a number of years,
I want to thank party colleagues and workers for their support.

“As well as Marvin, and my friends being conferred with titles today, it feels right to take a moment to reflect on the contributions of those who have not been honoured today – I am thinking particularly of Ruth, Carole, Tom, Gill, Kye, Afzal, Celia, and Jon.

“While I might not always make it to the Aldermen and Alderwomen’s bench for every Council meeting, I do hope to be there when Full Council confers the status posthumously on the late, great Mike Langley.

“Finally, I’d like to share one of my favourite quotations from Maya Angelou:

“‘People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did,
but people will never forget how you made them feel.’

“Thank you.”

New funding for Barton Hill

Image from building survey (below)

In March, Councillor Hibaq Jama and then-councillor Marg Hickman brought together community anchor organisations to look at the derelict former Tenants’ Hall in Barton Hill.

We then commissioned an independent assessment of the building (published below). It found repairing and converting the current building would cost over £1.4 million.

This brownfield site has the potential to be part of building in and up, not out. Projects like this are essential as we continue to tackle the housing crisis and invest in creating successful, healthier neighbourhoods.

We recently secured almost £200,000 as part of a wider national government programme to cover the costs of demolition to clear the site, if that route is supported by the local community.

Demolition would create a blank canvas for the site in Barton Hill, without the limitations posed by the existing building. It would likely create more opportunities for interested parties to work with the community towards a potential mixed use development. This project could include much-needed new affordable housing and modern, purpose-built community space, and, in line with our land disposal policy for community-led housing, we will be exploring potential for transferring the site to a community organisation.

Our successful bid comes ahead of further community engagement work, talking about the current nature of the building and the potential for new community space and new affordable housing. We are hoping to be able to share details of community workshops soon, for local people and organisations to co-create future options for the site.

Bristol’s Heat Network

Today’s guest blog is from Councillor Nicola Beech, Cabinet Member for Climate, Ecology, Energy, and Waste, and Labour Councillor for St George Central

To play our part in the fight against climate change, Bristol has committed to becoming a carbon neutral city by the year 2030. The expansion of Bristol’s Heat Network to new communities across Bristol is one key ingredient in securing Bristol’s energy future and providing businesses and homes with heat and energy form low carbon sources.

Heating and hot water currently account for 40% of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions worldwide, and 40% of Bristol’s emissions come from heating our homes and workspaces, so it is vital that we continue to invest in technology like this to support our transition to net zero.

What’s Bristol’s Heat Network?

Heat networks are a network of underground pipes that deliver affordable, low-carbon heat and energy to homes and businesses across the city. Bristol’s Heat Network is divided into different sections that cover areas across the city, with each section powered by a local energy centre. Heat networks are not new technology and are commonplace across Europe, with Copenhagen topping the charts with its heat network supplying around 98% of the city’s heat demand. Heat networks are less common in the UK and Bristol really does lead the way here.

Our existing heat network now supplies over 1,000 properties with low-carbon heat with pipe spanning over 8km underground. The neat part of heat networks is that they can draw their heat from many different sources – from the river to sewers to underground geothermal. So as our city continues to transition to 2030 and other heat sources become available, our heat network can live on.

But timing is everything and our cabinet paper brings forward our investment into Bedminster Green where 2,000 new homes are being built. By taking this decision, we are ensuring that we minimise disruption during the installation of the underground pipes and low carbon energy centres and have the energy solution in place ready to serve new developments as they are built.

What’s next for Bristol’s Heat Network?

The approved Bedminster section of the network will use heat extracted from waste-water in our sewer system to provide homes with warmth and warm water. We are living our waste nothing values by recycling Bristol’s hot shower water to heat homes elsewhere.

We are also continuing with the construction of a new Water Source Heat Pump in Castle Park, a renewable technology that will create heat from water in the floating harbour and the largest in the country.

As we see global shocks in gas prices forcing consumer bills up, I am really proud to be part of an administration which is creating the energy infrastructure Bristol needs, putting us in control of our energy future and taking big leaps on our journey to 2030.

You can find out more about Bristol’s Heat Network at:

BoKlok on the Brook and the UN’s SDGs

Today’s guest blog is by Graeme Culliton, Managing Director of BoKlok UK

When BoKlok was founded back in Sweden in the 1990s, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) weren’t around yet. Much like the UK today, at that time Sweden was experiencing an urgent shortage of homes, specifically for people on average incomes.

One person who saw the need for change was Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of IKEA. He recognised that new homes had to be made accessible for ‘ordinary people’, and his vision was to give everyone the same opportunity to live well.

Fast forward to today and we are proud to be continuing this vision right here in Bristol. One reason we decided to start our business in the city is because it’s here that you’ll find the people that think most about sustainability and saving our planet. These are the people open to new thinking and ideas, much like Mr Kamprad.

A key to unlocking this vision has been through implementing the SDGs into our way of working. We use them to guide us in delivering homes for ordinary people, whilst – at the same time – meeting the needs of a wider community.

The main seven key goals we work to are:

  1. Good Health & Wellbeing (SDG 3)
  2. Gender Equality (SDG 5)
  3. Reduced inequalities (SDG 10)
  4. Sustainable Cities & Communities (SDG 11)
  5. Responsible Consumption (SDG 12)
  6. Climate Action (SDG 13)
  7. Partnerships for the Goals (SDG 17)

Sure, we are a for-profit organisation, but it’s not just NGOs and political bodies who are responsible for following the SDGs – it’s everyone. It’s down to the private sector to adopt the goals, and we take our role in this seriously.

Sustainability and climate

You can’t read through the SDGs (or Bristol’s One City Plan for that matter) without recognising that careful attention must be given to our carbon footprint in the UK. That’s why building sustainably is one of our main drivers. But how do we do this?

We start by manufacturing all our BoKlok homes offsite in state-of-the-art production facilities using advanced timber frame construction technology. Timber is one of the most sustainable materials you can use in construction, so you won’t see a single BoKlok module made with anything else. Building our homes offsite in a factory also means that we reduce waste considerably, cut deliveries to site in half, and even reduce our time on site by over 50% compared with traditionally built houses. Good news for the planet (and great news for our neighbours!). 

Levelling the playing field

Alongside reducing our environmental impact, the UN’s goals call us to also reduce inequality in our communities. In Bristol, local policy looks to safeguard this by holding house builders like us to selling a minimum of their new builds as affordable housing (30% in our case). On our Bristol-based site, BoKlok on the Brook, that would mean 52 new affordable homes. I’m proud to say that we have gone beyond that and raised this to 46%. That means 27 more affordable homes than required, and a total of 79 homes going to the vulnerable individuals and families in the community that need them the most.

Delivering safe, quality homes for people that really need them is a major way we’ll see a reduction in inequalities in our cities. A stable home environment has many benefits: educational achievement leading to better chances on life and increased quality of health and well-being, to name just two. These matter and have a very real impact in changing the direction of people’s lives.

The BoKlok vision may have begun in Sweden back in the 1990s, but since then our ‘BoKlok way’ has taken shape and with it, our commitment to the UN’s SDGs. Are we as far along as we want to be? Of course not. We only started in the UK two-and-a-half years ago and that means we’re still making mistakes and learning from them. But through collaboration with committed partners (see SDG 17) such as the Bristol City Council or the Bristol Housing Festival, we’re extremely confident that we’ll start to see these goals realised here in Bristol, sooner rather than later.

Delivering for Bristol

Last week, I was delighted to contribute to Stronger Together: Labour Works, a report that highlights the work that Labour-run authorities across the country to change lives for the better – including how we are delivering for Bristol. It is a case study of what Labour can achieve in power, even in the age of austerity, and I would highly recommend everyone reads it.

My contribution to the report focussed on our Children’s Charter – a joint effort from myself and Councillor Godwin to enshrine the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into local decision making. Doing so helps our work to ensure that all children, no matter their background, are able to reach their full potential and live happy, healthy lives.

Decisions the Council and major organisations make affect children and young people on a daily basis – so we codified their rights and ensured their interests were placed at the heart of decision making.

The Bristol Children’s Charter is emblematic of One City working, as we’ve worked with Bristol’s major institutions to reach common goals and improve lives across the city. Bristol’s institutions, as well as the Council, are now committed to working to ensure every child can live in a warm home, no child goes hungry, and every child is able to benefit from Bristol’s thriving cultural scene, among a number of other things – showing the difference local authorities can make.  

This charter is the foundation of our work to make Bristol the best possible city to grow up in, but we’ve gone much further. In 2016 we promised to deliver work experiences for children and young people – by 2021, we provided 12,000 experiences of work for people who wouldn’t readily have access to them. In his speech to party conference, Keir Starmer pledged to bring back compulsory work experience programmes, after the Government scrapped them in 2012, so I am pleased the importance of work experience are being prioritised by Labour nationally.

The charter also commits us to ensuring children have space to learn and play. With that principle in mind, we protected all our children’s centres despite youth centres closing across the country. Building on this, we are now a step closer to opening a world-class Youth Zone in south Bristol, bucking the national trend of closures and cuts.

Another principle of the charter is working to provide children with the healthiest possible environment. We are cleaning up our air and are on track to be carbon neutral by 2030. We can and will go further, pushing ahead with our plans to invest £1 billion in clean energy and double our tree canopy.

This is just a snippet of our work in delivering for Bristol, and the work Labour leaders across the country – showing the power that local government has to change people’s lives for the better.

Chamberlain Lecture 2021

Mayor Marvin Rees delivers the 2021 Chamberlain Lecture.

On Tuesday, I gave the third Chamberlain Lecture on Local Government at Cratus in London.

The livestream of my speech is available on YouTube, with the full text below.

*check against delivery*

I want to start by thanking Cratus for inviting me to deliver today’s Chamberlain Lecture.

It is great to be here with you in person, as well as on the live-stream.

While it is a huge honour, it is also a huge challenge to follow on from Lord Heseltine and Lord Kerslake.

I have been reflecting on all of their legacies – and in this Chamberlain Lecture, I hope that I can do them justice.

Joseph Chamberlain was Mayor of Birmingham for only three years and yet he is remembered for delivering so much.

Many of his social reforms have been realised, revised, and refined in the almost 200 years since his birth.

Chamberlain’s ideas – of a state proactive on critical issues from universal education to old age pensions – are understood to have helped inspire the seminal Beveridge ‘cradle to grave’ report in the following century.

Michael Heseltine has been a unique voice in Westminster politics – one that recognised the need to – and actually sought to – proactively invest in and share power with our local authorities and cities.

While I did not know Joseph Chamberlain and I do not know Michael Heseltine, I have gotten to know Bob Kerslake.

He has been a personal support to me as a first time politician and his UK 2070 Commission offers a major contribution to our understanding of regional inequalities across the UK and what we need to do to tackle them – not merely as an issue of fairness, but in the national interest.

These inequalities rob the nation of talent.

I hope to pick up on many of those themes during the course of this talk and the discussion that follows. I will share some of the experiences and insights that we – my team and I – have developed as we have tried to offer our city good leadership and work with government.

I will also share how we have grown into the necessity of city leaders connecting with other city leaders in order to influence national and international policy and events.

What’s it like being a Mayor?

But I thought I would start by answering a question asked in a recent Cratus discussion with Lord Heseltine and that question was “what is it like being mayor?”

On Friday, I spend an hour and a half with prefects at a secondary school talking about life and aspiration.

Yesterday, I started the day discussing my cabinet appointments before thinking with my team how we would manage our relationships within our combined authority.

As I left the office yesterday evening, I confronted a guy weeing on City Hall.

I was joined by an old school friend who happened to be walking past and took umbrage to the manner in which the said “wee-er” responded to my challenge.

Enough said about that!

Last week, I was on a call with fellow mayors from the Mayors Migration Council, planning our approach to the current migration crises and the increasing the likelihood of shocks that will produce more crises in the future.

This morning I recorded a panel discussion with Professor Gregg Clark, Chair the UK Cities Climate Investment Commission, and Alice Charles of the World Economic Forum, on the question: “How do Cities Finance the Transformative Work They Want To Do?”

And this evening, I am with you.


As one former Governor of New Jersey put it…

Mayors are part of a small number of politicians, who have to be one hundred per cent focused on getting stuff done – not just saying stuff.

There are no “opposition” Mayors; there’s no such thing as “shadows” in local government.

Great speeches or clever questions “don’t solve one problem for one person.”

As a Mayor, you’re expected “to plow the snow, … to get the schools open.”

Great legislators can be consigned to opposition for their entire time in office.

But as a directly elected Mayor, there is no break from responsibility, no break from visibility, no break from delivery.

The reason the job exists – particularly for a city like Bristol, which was the only city to vote yes to having a Mayor in the 2012 referendums – is simple.

It is to get stuff done… and yesterday.

And its relentless.

Just after I was elected, I was in New York and I visited with Michael Berkowitz, the Head of 100 Resilient Cities and who had worked as a leading member of Michael Bloomberg’s Mayoral team.

I was in that imposter syndrome phase of my own mayoralty, desperate for anchors and certainty.

I talked about this with Michael.

He said to me the first year that they were in power was like having their mouths around a fire hydrant.

That gave me some peace.

And it is one of the reasons that Bloomberg has gone on to launch the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative – because as he said, there is no natural preparation for being mayor – for being a city leader.


Before I was elected, Steve Bullock, the former mayor of the London Borough of Lewisham, shared with me a bit about his experience.

He told me of going into his office as mayor and finding all these metaphorical levers presented to him as the levers for change.

But – he said – as he pulled them he found they were not actually connected to anything.

He needed to build a team, systems, and a culture that would connect his leadership to the physical, social, political, and economic forces in the borough that would ultimately improve the outcomes for its citizens.

We have taken this to heart in our approach to city leadership.

We have had to take the local authority itself in hand.

We commissioned Stephen Bundred, the former Chief Executive of the Audit Commission, to undertake a review of Bristol City Council when we came into office, following discovery of some major financial challenges.

In his findings he described an organisation with a failure of collective leadership, where the governance was not up to standard, finance needed urgent attention and with a culture that was hierarchical and bullying.

We had to deal with that.

But as essential as it was, we were clear that our challenge was not just to sort out the council.

The mayoral mandate was to lead the city.

We developed our understanding of Bristol as a collective endeavour.

That what people get from Bristol is not the result of decisions made by any single organisation.

You do not pull a lever in an education department or a school and get a straight line to an education or life outcome.

Rather people sit at the intersection of a vast spectrum of organisations, making and ducking decisions.

To illustrate the point, a primary school teacher said to me that if he could make one intervention for education then he would ensure every child had a kitchen table.

He did not talk about the education system itself, he talked about children’s wider lives.

I took that as meaning a home with space to do work, and a place for a family to come together, in which there was enough food to eat.

This complexity speaks to our interdependence.

No single city, organisation, or sector can flourish alone.

Before I was elected, I wrote to our Local Enterprise Partnership.

It had a strategy that stressed skills but nowhere talked about health.

I argued skills are great but count for nothing if people are at home with back pain and depression.

Health was not just an issue for the NHS, it was a key economic issue.

I asked “what would it mean to the West of England economy if we were able to say we had the most well workforce in Europe, with the fewest numbers of a days of absenteeism?”

In turn, health outcomes depend on the start that children get in life – homes, the quality of parental employment and access to nutritional food, and extra-curricular activities.

The social is the economic, is the health, is the political.

Through the mayoral mandate, we have sought to find a way of leading that works with this interdependence, across the wider determinants of city outcomes, rather than leading in line with government finance, cabinet delegations, and the way public services are organised.

In 2017 I convened our first City Gathering.

The idea was to bring together those people in the city who shaped big budgets, and had reach into people’s lives.

70 to 75 people turned up from health, the private sector, further and higher education, schools, the voluntary, community and faith sectors, and unions.

My office did a back of the envelope calculation.

There was approximately £6 billion worth of spending represented in the room, and between us we employed around 70 thousand people.

We talked about the expertise in the room, our hopes for Bristol, and our interdependencies.

I fed back on the power in the room, and posed a question:

“If we all, this morning, agreed to focus our collective efforts on a small number of shared outcomes, what could we not do?”

It is a process that launched our Bristol One City Plan that sets out what we want Bristol to be in 2050 and the sequence of annual goals and outcomes that we need to deliver to become that city.

And we now have those City Gatherings every six months and they are attended by around 500 people.

Our former Chief Constable Andy Marsh once said to me over dinner that “world class public sector leadership is not about what you control, but what you influence”.

We have described this as the move from city government to city governance.

City government is the disproportionate focus on the local authority, city governance works to get alignment between all those place shaping organisations, systems, and cultures.


Another feature of this complexity is the tendency for cities to be contradictory.

Mayors have to navigate and resist the temptation to indulge or be forced into over-simplification.

The hauling down of the Colston statue in Bristol in June 2020 is an example of why this is important.

I was challenged to condemn the Black Lives Matter protest as a whole.

I was challenged to condemn those individuals who toppled the statue.

I was challenged to condemn the police.

I was challenged to condemn the football lads who organised a rally to protect the nearby Cenotaph the following weekend.

I was even – as a black, working class mayor – challenged by some white, middle class people to apologise for slavery itself.

My response to the Colston Statue itself is pretty well documented, but let me tell you about something that is less well known: the visit that I made to the football lad who had organised the Cenotaph rally.

He had called both of Bristol’s football firms and the firms of surrounding towns and cities.

He had called the Hells Angels to turn up.

So he was – is – connected.

And they surrounded the Cenotaph, and anti-racism protestors also turned up.

Some described his rally as a far-right rally.

My cousin is a football lad and knew the organiser.

Long story short, my chief of staff and I went to meet him.

Our priority was to hold the city together – and we wanted to understand him.

He stressed he was not racist, that he was not far-right.

We talked about motivation.

He didn’t like ANTIFA but he mostly talked about housing and jobs.

I asked him what was happening for the guys who turned out.

He said:

“Marv, they feel like they are losing their city”

I said:

“They are losing their city, but they aren’t losing it to migrants, they’re losing it to house prices”

Then his wife came to offer us a cup of tea.

She was – is – black.

As I was about to leave he wanted to show me a picture.

It was a picture of his wife and I from 2016, just after I was elected.

He still had it on his phone.

It is complicated.

And mayors must hold cities together in the face of complexity and contradiction, and avoid the simplistic plays to subsets of the whole population.


As of this moment I am doing well in accumulating the number of dictators I have been compared to.

I have been likened to another Joseph – Stalin – and Kim Jong Un.

Polpot has been thrown in the mix.

One local campaigner – a Labour Party member – said I was behaving like a member of the Ku Klux Klan, and last year an opposition councillor warned council officers that a “I was simply following orders” defence would not protect them.

Chamberlain got this himself around 150 years ago, being called ‘a monopoliser and a dictator’.

So think it’s OK.

It comes with the territory.

The truth is the mayoral model offers a visibility of leadership that is critical to democratic accountability.

Rather than taking the cover of an anonymous group in a committee room, the mayor is responsible – even if sometimes quite unfairly so.

Journalists interrogate me, campaigners target me, the public ask of me.

Some say they are concerned about the concentration of executive power in the Mayor’s hands.

But here is the counter to that:

First, as I said before, the mayor does not have absolute power – there are many points of sovereignty in the city

That power can be used to convene and ask – in Bristol at least – in a way that doesn’t seem to have been possible here before.

And third, the level of accountability that comes with the mayoral profile must bring with it power or else the mayor is unfairly held accountable for decisions they did not make, while the actual decision makers are able to avoid accountability.

Relationship with national government

Previous Cratus conversations have touched on the limitations of national government in general, and the dysfunctionality of its relationship with local government and cities in particular.

And I will share that, as a first-time politician, I have been shocked by the ability of national government to add uncertainty to an already complex and unpredictable world.

And it seems to be done with more much more confidence than self-awareness.

The UK is one of the most heavily centralised countries in Europe, if not the world.

In 1970, 60% of local government cash was determined by central government.

By the mid-2000s, despite devolution to Belfast, Cardiff, and Edinburgh, as well as to the Mayor of London, this figure had risen to 85%.

In 2016, the year I took office, 91 pence out of every pound of taxation was controlled by the Treasury.

We urgently need a new sovereignty settlement across the UK in general, and for cities in particular.

Government structures will never be the top of the national agenda – but local authorities and cities know and say that we have untapped potential.

Work with us, agree the vision, plan how to achieve it, develop a line of predictable finance to underpin delivery of those plans.

Then we can realise that potential, to ensure we have a post-covid recovery, and one that is inclusive, decarbonised, and resilient.

We have got to get the basics right.

In 2017 I opened the local paper to learn that:

“Bristol is still in the dark over rail electrification as Government cancels upgrade plans in south Wales.

“The DfT have already placed a pause on electrification between Bristol and Bath, as well as between Bristol Temple Meads and Bristol Parkway stations, as it looked to tackle the ballooning £2.8 billion costs of the upgrade programme across the line.”

I had not had a call.

The article said Ministers had been hinting, but I cannot work with hints.

It is no way to plan for a major part of national infrastructure.

In 2019 I stood on the government’s stage at MIPIM, an international investment conference, to talk about our Temple Quarter regeneration opportunity.

11,000 homes, 22,000 jobs, and £1.6 billion per year to our economy.

It was introduced as one of the most exciting regeneration opportunities in Europe.

Despite universal approval and support from the highest level, we have not been about to get someone, somewhere in government to send the email releasing the money needed for the renovation of Temple Meads to kickstart it.

This uncertainty can make us a less dependable partner for others.

The University of Bristol are building a brand new £300 million campus and L&G are investing £350 million on Temple Island, all right next the station.

We have kept things going, but the uncertainty from government is not helpful.

Of course we now have “Levelling Up”, “Build Back Better”, and “Devolution”.

How much time have local authorities spent moving between trying to work out what those phrases mean, trying to influence what they mean, and trying to position themselves to be on the receiving end of any spending that might occur when someone, somewhere locks down what they mean.

It is not a good use of our time.

I won’t pretend that Michael Gove and I share a complete worldview.

But where we will come together is in the need to get things done.

Mayors – as Michael Bloomberg emphasises – must be pragmatic.

My hope is that the new Secretary of State grabs this uncertainty – this opportunity for reform – by the scruff of the neck.

Better still, that he works with Core Cities, the LGA City Regions Board, the M9, and the regional powerhouses to agree definitions, vision, and a plan.

Let me echo the challenge I gave to my own city: what could we not do if we agreed and aligned our priorities across all spheres of governance.

Key to unlocking this alignment will be overcoming the current model of funding for councils, that is too often akin to a game of scrambles.

In my school, when a kid had one sweet left and eight kids wanted it, rather than making a decision they might throw it in the air and shout scrambles.

Then we would all fight for it.

No rules – finger stamping allowed.

Survival of the fittest.

Government do the same.

There was recently an initiative against child hunger.

Government put up a few million pounds.

And asked for the whole country to fight for it.

Bristol came away – or at least our children came away – with nothing.

We had our fingers stamped on.

We lost at scrambles.

But even if we’d been successful, I would not be satisfied to feed Bristol’s children because, in winning the funding, we would have kept resources away from Plymouth’s children.

That is not a national strategy.

It is not a plan.

It is not leadership.

We need a win-win framework for national investment.

And too often the funding is short term and broken up between governments departments who do not seem coordinated.

It is down to local government with limited resource to fight for resources and play outside-half to a national machine that feels like a collection of disconnected pots of money bolted together.

We are additionally vulnerable to this because UK Cities have no way of directly raising revenue, other than the centrally controlled council tax.

Unlike cities around the world, we have no land taxes, no taxes at the point of sale.

All city-driven revenues end up with the Exchequer and only a small percentage makes its way back to cities as part of the annual handout.

In his day, Joseph Chamberlain didn’t wait for national government.

When elected Mayor of Birmingham, he quickly took control of the utilities and waterworks to improve health, environment, and public services.

Alongside the wider social reform agenda, these municipalisations saved lives and predated the post-war nationalisations which accompanied the establishment of our NHS.

Today cities are not waiting on government.

We need our national government.

We will be less than we could be if we fail to organise that national alignment.

But we are not making government enlightenment a prerequisite to our own action.

We have the M9.

Two weeks ago I was at the UK Core Cities’ annual away day.

We are working on a national offer to government on housing.

We want to take a solutions focussed approach, we all want to get homes built, so how do we work together to get the right kinds of homes in the right places?

Let’s plan together.

It’s a solutions focussed approach that I want to take into my new role as the Chair of the LGA City Regions Board.

Things can work well.

In 2019, Bristol, Newport, and Cardiff convened local authorities to form the Western Gateway.

We now stretch from Swindon to Swansea, Gloucester to North Somerset, with the core cities of Bristol and Cardiff at the centre.

We are the new powerhouse, a functional economic area of 4.4 million people that now sits alongside the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands engine.

The glimmer of light was, from a bottom-up creation, national government came forward to back it.

Sajid Javid and Alun Cairns were central to the launch.

It felt – and feels – like we are approaching a partnership.

Money was put into the secretariat and we’re working on an economic strategy.

I should mention, it was one of the initiatives Lord Kerslake was so helpful in getting off of the ground.

The Prime Minister has emphasised the role of local leadership as part of ‘levelling up’.

We accept the invitation, but:

Ensure cabinet members meet regularly with the Core Cities and the M9.

Ensure the LGA’s annual conference is anchored into the PM’s annual calendar, and cabinet members build strong relationships with the relevant LGA boards.

Meet with the powerhouses.

The opportunity for national alignment is there. Let’s take it.


Now I want to raise the international, because the importance of local and city leadership is not limited to national politics.

Global governance, with its over-reliance on national governments, is becoming increasingly threadbare.

Many of us know it to be true.

At the Global Parliament of Mayors in Durban, in 2019, Ed Johnson, the former Mayor of Asbury Park, said to me: “we have the best modern of global governance that the 1960s could ask for – the problem is, it is 2019.”

The COP26 climate conference in November threatens to further expose this.

My fear is that national governments will remain unable to move beyond high-profile, headline commitments to tackle the climate and ecological emergencies, and get to clear, measurable plans with proper funding and a clear timeline for delivery.

Cities consume around 70% of all energy and generate three-quarters of global carbon emissions.

These figures will only increase as cities continue to grow, with estimates that 68% of people will live in urban areas by 2050.

And it is in cities where most people will be affected by climate change, as heatwaves threaten residents in city centres, and rising sea levels and extreme rainstorms cause flash flooding.

At the same time, compact cities can offer more sustainable lifestyles.

Higher-density living can result in more efficient living and smaller carbon footprints.

A recent paper from the World Bank, Pancakes to Pyramids, set out how we should plan in and up, rather than sprawling out.

So surely cities will be central to any coherent strategy, and yet they are being passively excluded from COP26.

ICLEI – a global network of 2,500 local and regional governments committed to sustainable urban development – normally have over 150 passes.

So far, they have 20.

We cannot do this without cities.

As environmentalists and politicians race each other to the soonest target date for carbon neutrality, collectively, we are all only just starting to understand the cost of this ambition and what it takes to realise it.

That is where city leaders are crucial: we know what it takes on the ground.

Bristol is a member of the UK Core Cities, a network of Britain’s 11 largest urban areas.

Collectively, across our urban areas, we account for around 20 million people and 26% of national economic output.

Yet there has been no government effort to convene us to devise a coherent plan for decarbonisation.

This is a recipe for underperformance at the very moment humanity has no room for error.

And it is a mistake that is repeated time and again.

From migration to urban security, to pandemics to making corporations pay their taxes, the critical challenges we face today are increasingly post-national.

Solutions are out of reach of national governments working alone.

City governance could be a very effective political vehicle to operate in a post-national world.

In Bristol, we have seen how pandemic policy translates from the sterility of parliamentary debate into the reality of peoples’ lives in homes, schools, and workplaces.

We know that Brexit, a product of Westminster’s politics, is affecting our social-care sector and food supply, and will continue to create challenges in 2022.

Again, cities aren’t waiting. We are organising ourselves.

More than 300 international city networks have already emerged.

Some are geographically organised, such as Core Cities, Eurocities, and the US Conference of Mayors.

Some are organised around common issues, such as the Mayors Migration Council or the C40’s Climate Leadership Group.

Others, such as the Global Parliament of Mayors, are trying to strengthen cities’ role within national and international governance structures.

In 2018 I spoke at the United Nations during the final negotiations of its Global Compact on Migration.

As the first mayor to be invited to speak, I argued that cities should be given a stronger, more formal role in setting migration policy.

Most migrants leave cities, transit through them, travel to them, and return to them — including Bristol.

As with climate, cities can provide leadership and expertise.

The UN’s compact had direct consequences for the lives of Bristol people, many of whom, like me, are first- or second-generation migrants.

When I was first elected in 2016, I did not anticipate how central international leadership would be to my mayoralty.

But it is a natural extension of the argument for the devolution of more powers to individual cities.

It is not enough to be able to shape what happens within the city.

Serving Bristol means taking account of, and helping to shape, the national and international context and forces that affect life in the city.

None of this is a wish for, or prediction of, the demise of national governments.

Rather it is an argument for the missing piece of the puzzle in national and international governance.

National governments will need to make space, and international organisations will need to redirect much of their energy and finance through cities.

My colleague on the World Economic Forum’s network of Global Future Councils, the scholar and writer Gregg Clark, says that we are living in the fifth decade of the century of the city.

It is of critical importance, for all our sakes, that national and international governance catches up with that fact.

Making city leaders equal partners in shaping national and international policy will maximise our chances of tackling the major challenges of our time.