National praise for our local council

Westminster’s cuts to councils have seen Labour areas on average lose more than £500 per household. Meanwhile, Conservative areas have seen their per household spending fall by £115 – less than a third of the cuts faced by Labour councils. Despite this Tory austerity, the LGA Labour Group’s 100 More Innovations by Labour in Power shows that we are delivering for our communities. It follows hot on the heels of 100 Innovations by Labour in Power, and highlights how local Bristol Labour councillors and I have fought against austerity, pulling together the core cities and metro mayors, and rallying Bristol before lobbying Parliament for fair funding.

Last weekend, Jeremy Corbyn held up Bristol City Council as a prime example of how Labour councils are delivering for their residents. National attention for both the Children’s Charter and the Ethical Care Charter shows that we are standing up for everyone in Bristol, from cradle to grave. Our pioneering work is inspiring cities the world over.

Introduced by Councillor Helen Godwin, my Cabinet lead for Women, Children, and Families, the Bristol Children’s Charter is the first of its kind in the UK. Based on the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, our ten-pledge strong charter has seen more than forty city partners and organisations sign up already. It has really demonstrated our commitment to be a family-friendly authority and represents a guiding principle for our council and for Bristol.

Working together with UNISON, Councillor Helen Holland, my Cabinet lead for Adult Social Care, is in the final stages of developing an Ethical Care Charter for Bristol. With the council accredited by the Living Wage Foundation as a Living Wage employer, Helen has also overseen improved pay and conditions for homecare workers, including paid travel time, and an important campaign to show how much we value the social care sector.

Our administration has won praise for our innovative work. We also take real inspiration from what other Labour and Labour-Coop councillors and councils are doing for their local communities. Labour are proud to be delivering for Bristol, and hope that the spotlight focusing on Bristol helps share best practice across the country.

Fighting Austerity, standing up for Bristol

This weekend, I have been in Warwick for a summit of Labour council leaders and, with many of Bristol’s local Labour councillors, Labour’s local government conference.

It’s our first national conference since I and almost 80 Labour council leaders wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, calling for Theresa May’s Government to honour her promise to end austerity. It’s a great opportunity too to meet with some of the 5,000+ Labour councillors (which included all of Bristol’s Labour councillors) who petitioned Number 10 Downing Street as part of the Local Government Association (LGA) Labour Group’s ‘Breaking Point’ campaign. It’s also our first conference since Labour councillors in Bristol passed a Full Council motion repeating our calls for the reversal of national Government cuts, which all of the other parties opposed.

In Bristol, Labour remains the at the forefront of the fight against austerity. It was welcome to hear Jeremy Corbyn MP, Leader of the Labour Party, repeat his commitment that the next Labour Government will give Bristol and other local councils the fair funding which we deserve and the powers which we need. The shadow Local Government Secretary Andy Gwynne and shadow Education Secretary Angie Rayner spoke passionately about the importance of local councils like Bristol as the last line of defence against Westminster’s cuts, and the first priority for the next Labour Government to rebuild Britain for the many, not the few. Andy also wrote the Guardian this weekend to set out some next steps for a radical rebalancing of sovereignty, bursting the Westminster Bubble by empowering councils through a new commission of councils to better inform decision-making in Parliament.

LGA Labour

Cllrs Mhairi Threlfall, Helen Holland, and Mike Davies with me at Labour’s local government conference 2019

I spoke at a public health panel, reiterating that the Government’s cuts to preventative and intervention services are a false economy. Bristol City Council has lost almost £2.6 million in public health grant funding since we came into office in 2016, alongside more than £100 million of wider austerity from Westminster, the pressures of a growing population, and increasingly complex health needs. And the former Mayor’s £30 million black hole in the council’s finances only made matters worse. Nationally, since 2015/16, over half a billion pounds of annual public health funding has been cut by the Tory Government.

Speaking alongside fellow local government leaders and experts from the Terrence Higgins Trust and Cancer Research UK, I once again outlined the urgent need for the Government to abandon further cuts to public health and devote the resources which are needed. I also took the opportunity to share copies of the One City Plan – a document written together with hundreds of partners from across the city.

It sets out an ambitious future for public health in the city, working together to end period poverty for girls and women and tackle knife crime and gang violence in 2019/20. If Bristol and her institutions fully utilise our combined resources and influence in a shared vision, we can deliver our 2050 vision. A city where we can all thrive, with our physical and mental health equally supported and an integrated health and social care system. A better Bristol where no ward is in the 10% most deprived in the country and the life expectancy gap, which currently stretches as wide as 17 years, between richest and poorest has significantly closed. Clean air to breathe, healthier choices truly able to be made, fresh produce aplenty and obesity reduced, and preventable mortality halved. In short: a Bristol where we all live long, healthier, happier lives.

Councillor Helen Holland, Bristol’s longest serving Labour representative, also appeared on a panel about new municipalism and community wealth building. She highlighted the good work of our administration, representing our city and its innovation well as she does regularly at LGA events the country over. Helen spoke powerfully about the potential of new municipalism within her adult social care cabinet portfolio. The Better Lives programme, in-sourcing, and the three tier model are working together to maintain people’s independence and improve community-based care. For example, partners like AgeUK and Bristol Community Health are pulling together support services, tackling social isolation and building more resilient communities, and reducing reoccurrence of medical problems to just 2%.

On community wealth building more widely, our new procurement policy will double the weighting for social value. Our commitment to local businesses has won us an award from the Federation of Small Business and seen more than a third of the local authority’s procurement spend remain within Bristol, with a further eighth in the wider region. 40% of our spend is with SMEs.

Bristol City Council has also, under Labour, backed our local credit union, invested in a new co-operative ethical bank for the region, pushed for more strategic and responsible investment of the Avon Pension Fund, been accredited as a Living Wage employer and encouraged other employers to do the same, and backed start-ups through business incubators. We have also continued to invest in the council’s wholly-owned companies to deliver waste and energy services, started our own housing company to deliver more affordable homes, and examined how to use assets like land and property to best benefit all Bristolians.

 

Time to Change

This week, Bristol City Council will pledge to become a ‘Time to Change’ employer and join the growing social movement supporting people to open about mental health.

We want to ensure we have an environment which supports colleagues to open up; to talk and to listen. Becoming a Time to Change employer is a sign of our commitment to this and puts mental health and wellbeing top of the agenda in City Hall.

Time to Change is run by the charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness and by signing the employer pledge the council is committing to change the way we all think and act about mental health in the workplace. The announcement comes ahead of Time to Talk Day (7 Feb) a national awareness day encouraging people to have conversations about mental health and challenge stigma.

Behind the pledge sits an action plan to set out how we will achieve this and how we’ll make sure we’re embedding mental health into our policies to best support colleagues. Practical things we will be doing include creating an environment where colleagues feel more able to discuss mental health concerns, providing information to managers on mental health and working collaboratively with trade unions, staff-led groups and external expertise to hear voices from all employee groups.

We know that this is one part of the picture and mental health is an issue that needs to be looked at from many different angles. That’s why we’re working on a 10 year programme focused on prevention called Thrive Bristol. BCC has also signed the Public Health England Prevention Concordat for Better Mental Health demonstrating its commitment to join the national drive to take action to prevent mental health problems, promote good mental health and build resilient communities.

I want to see other city institutions come on board and pledge to this too, as a city wide commitment to better mental health. This reflects the approach we have taken with our pledges on the UNITE Construction Charter, our Living Wage accreditation and recently the Dying To Work charter. These set out the benchmark we want to see for employers in the city and hope other can follow our lead.

Signing the Time to Change employer pledge is another mark of our commitment to putting mental health on the same footing as physical health.  This is an issue we can’t afford to ignore and we need to create a workplace culture where we are all confident to open up the conversation around mental health.

Council Tax Reduction Scheme & Empty Property Premium

At this afternoon’s cabinet meeting we reaffirmed our commitment to the £40 million Council Tax Reduction Scheme, the last of its kind in the core cities, which provides a discount of up to 100% for the poorest households in Bristol.

In a continuing era of austerity, where the government continues to increase the gap between rich and poor and look away from the increasing difficulties for our most vulnerable citizens, I was really proud to take the decision to maintain this benefit which maintains the current levels of support to households on a low income.

Keeping the reduction scheme also reduces the risk of increased debt to the council for households on a low income, an increased concern as the switch to Universal Credit really starts to bite for many people.

Our aim remains working towards Bristol being an inclusive and accessible economy for everyone

Council tax reduction and exemption is provided to around 10,000 pensioners and students across Bristol. The reduction scheme provides support to people of working age and around a further 25,000 households.

As we would expect, single parents, disabled people, members of black and minority ethnic communities, and women rely dis-proportionately on benefit from the scheme. Again we know that more people are affected in less affluent areas with more than 9,300 working-age households in receipt of the CTRS, from just five of Bristol’s 34 wards.  These are Hartcliffe & Withywood, Lawrence Hill, Avonmouth & Lawrence Weston, Filwood, and Ashley. 3 of these wards are amongst the most deprived wards in the city.

Today’s meeting also saw plans to increase the rate of council tax on long-term empty properties to 300%, having already scrapped the 50% discount in place under the previous administration.

Cabinet approved proposals to increase council tax on long-term empty properties – defined as being unoccupied and substantially unfurnished for at least two years – to up to 300% of their Council tax. The premium will not apply in certain circumstances, for instance where an owner has gone into hospital or care home, has moved to another residence to receive or provide care, has passed away.

We estimate this will raise an additional £189,000 over the next financial year. Even more importantly it will help encourage people to bring more of the 291 domestic properties which have been empty and unfurnished for at least two years back into use as homes. Given the housing crisis and the consequences it has, we need to use every available tool at our disposal to make sure empty houses become homes.

These two policies demonstrate our progressive approach to taxation in a way that no other core city has achieved.

Our City – on film

It was great to host talented young filmmakers from across Bristol in City Hall today.

They were entrants to the One City film competition, launched in 2017. This competition was borne out of our work with the city’s media and creative industry to attract Channel 4 to Bristol.

We always set out saying we would go for Channel 4, but that even if we didn’t get the Creative Hub, good things would still have come from the sector coming together in this way.

One of these things was how we created a space and platform for young filmmaking talent to showcase itself and get involved with telling the city’s story.

The finalists of the Our City competition are offered mentoring from leading Bristol film and TV production companies such as Aardman, Doghouse Productions, Drummer TV, Films @59 and Icon Films. The £1,000 prize was this year split between two winning entries: ‘BeBristol’ by Patch de Salis and ‘BRISTOL | Create Here’ by Michael Doran. These films will also be showcased at this Friday’s City Gathering.

This is all part of our commitment to identifying and working with the city to identify the opportunities for young, creative talent.

The creative sector is a huge part of Bristol’s economy and it has been fantastic to work with the sector over the past 18 months.  As Mike Norton said in his editorial for the Bristol Post following the announcement that Bristol has won a C4 Creative Hub, ‘this victory was but a small indication of what can be achieved when Bristol unites behind a project’.

Congratulations to the winners and all the finalists on their achievements. I hope this competition and expert mentoring acts as a catalyst for future creative careers.

Bristol Young Heroes Awards

byha

Nominations Close for Bristol Young Heroes Awards on Saturday 22nd December.

Every year Bristol holds a gala dinner and awards ceremony called the Bristol Young Heroes Awards (BYHA) which pays tribute to the young people of the city aged 11-19 who are overcoming challenges to achieve something amazing in the face of adversity.

BYHA was founded in 2013 to highlight the incredible things Young People are doing in the city and to counter the surge of negative press they were getting, especially after the riots in 2012.

The event has grown year on year and has now recognised over 120 young people.  The aim is to not only have a one-off event to give a pat on the back and thank these amazing young people, but to partner with local businesses and programmes in Bristol to mentor and support the nominees after the awards to achieve their full potential and fulfill their dreams… whatever they may be.

The Bristol City Youth Council play a large role in choosing the nominees and the Youth Mayors will be presenting an award at the 2019 awards which will be held on Friday 5th April at We the Curious.

To nominate a Young Person or find out more about the event please go to www.communityofpurpose.com or contact Holly Maurice at holly.maurice@communityofpurpose.com

These Walls Must Fall – Full Council Motion

Hundreds of people marched through Bristol on Saturday to demand an end to immigration detention.

Almost 30,000 immigrants and asylum seekers are held in detention centres every year. Conditions inside are prison-like, with inmates kept behind bars in units (including former high-security prisons) ringed by barbed wire and patrolled by guards.

Detainees have committed no crimes – but unlike prisoners, they often have no idea about when they can expect to be released. That’s because the UK is the only country in Europe not to have a time limit on how long immigrants and asylum seekers can be detained.

Tonight at Full Council councillors called on the Government to end this cruel system. A motion, passed by 48 votes in favour with 11 votes against, called for the Government to change the law to introduce more humane alternative and re-stated Bristol’s commitment as a City of Sanctuary and signatory to the Dignity not Destitution Pledge.

Councillors spoke powerfully about the brutality of the current system.

In some cases, Home Office officials arrive at asylum seekers’ homes in the middle of the night, force them into cars and transport them to other parts of the country. They can be placed many miles from loved ones – separated from friends and family just at the time they need them most.

The toll this takes on detainees was spelled out by an All Party Inquiry into Immigration Detention which found that the lack of a time limit had “a considerable mental health cost…detainees are left counting the days they have been in detention, not knowing if tomorrow their detention will continue, if they will be deported or if they will be released.”

The report also found a lack of adequate healthcare in centres, poor access to legal representation and particularly poor conditions for women, who report a lack of privacy and feeling intimidated by male staff.

There is not just a strong moral case for overhauling immigration detention – there is a financial one too. As the These Walls Must Fall campaign, who organised Saturday’s march, point out, the £125m spent every year on keeping open the UK’s eleven detention centres is both a terrible waste of money, and a waste of lives.

The motion passed tonight calls on the Government to enact in full the recommendations of the All Party Parliamentary Inquiry. We called on Ministers to change the law so that:

  • There would be a time limit of 28 days on the length of time anyone can be held
  • There would be a presumption in favour of community-based resolutions and against detention
  • Decisions to detain should be for the shortest possible time
  • The Government would introduce a much wider range of alternatives to detention

On the streets and in the council chamber this week, Bristol has spoken out in favour of a fairer, more humane system of immigration detention. We hope other cities and councils will follow our lead and help put pressure on the Government to recognise that the current system must be overhauled.

World Human Rights Day

Today marks UN World Human Rights Day. This year’s Human Rights Day is especially significant because it marks 70 years since the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Motivated by the experiences of the preceding world wars, the Universal Declaration was the first time that countries agreed on a comprehensive statement of inalienable human rights. Seventy years later, the rights set out in the declaration remain as relevant as the day it was published.

At a time in which national government is no longer equipped with the tools to address the challenges posed by the modern world, it is more important than ever for cities to play a leading role in advancing the human rights. For years, cities have come together to tackle specific challenges such as climate change and migration. But the world is facing a new type of threat. Resurgent nationalist and extremist politics, fed by new digital communication tools, are polarizing divided and angry societies. In fact, the recent proliferation of threats to democracy and human rights show that continual human progress on these themes cannot be taken for granted. This progress is not always linear. From Brazil, the US and the UK to Hungary, Poland and Sweden, populist nationalist politics threaten human rights progress and the democratic structures upon which this progress depends.

Cities working together across international boundaries have the potential – even the duty – to assume a leadership role to safeguard our democracy. National political structures are demonstrating that they are vulnerable to populist takeover and ill-equipped to take on the challenges of social and economic inequality and the political exclusion that the populists are exploiting. I am convinced that we need to start an action focussed debate about a new architecture for global governance in which our cities and city networks are sitting alongside national leaders as equal partners in shaping domestic and global agendas. We need to strengthen human rights and democracy from the bottom-up.

I recently hosted the third annual gathering of the Global Parliament of Mayors in Bristol with precisely this aim in mind. We brought together nearly 100 mayors and leaders of city networks to explore how we can better work together to empower city leaders to drive change from the local to the global levels. Uppermost on the minds of many city leaders was finding ways to counter the nationalist impulses of their national governments – key to protecting the hard-fought rights of citizens. It was a powerful gathering, but I am acutely aware of how far we have to go.

In Bristol, we are playing a leading role in helping to protect the rights set out within the Universal Declaration. For example, Article 14 states that ‘Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution’. Bristol is proud to be a City of Sanctuary, recognising the contribution of asylum seekers and refugees to the city and seeking to include them as fully as possible in all aspects of social and economic life. This month we will be welcoming a group of asylum seekers to City Hall as part of a programme offering them work taster sessions in order to prepare them for employment. Bristol City Funds is exploring ways to invest in refugee entrepreneurs so that they can start and grow businesses which bring prosperity to their new communities. And the Council is proud to work alongside the many civil society organisations supporting and empowering refugees and asylum seekers in the city. We are making huge strides in helping to deliver Article 24 – ‘everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment’ through an array of mechanisms, including our inclusive and sustainable inclusive growth strategy and our WORKS programme. Article 25 sets out that ‘all children shall enjoy the same social protection’, with our own Children’s Charter setting out our commitments to our city’s children. The charter is a set of ten pledges formed by various partners across the city, which puts the human rights of children first priority in decision-making processes.

70 years on from the adoption of the Universal Declaration, we need to summon up the same energy and bravery as those who wrote it in order to safeguard our shared human rights. These rights cannot be taken for granted, and progress towards their delivery needs to happen from the bottom-up, rather than the top-down.

Industrial Strategy

A couple of hundred business leaders, academics and government representatives from across the country came together yesterday at “We The Curious”. They were in Bristol at the behest of Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy to mark one year since the publication of the Government’s Industrial Strategy, and engage in its continued development.

This is a vital piece of work. In Bristol we have set out to write a City Plan in the name of setting out our city’s future before it is handed to us by people and events that are not under our control. I understand the Industrial Strategy the same way – an attempt to be intentional about how we grow and strengthen our economy. It identifies four grand challenges:

  • Artificial Intelligence and data
  • Ageing society
  • Clean growth
  • Future of mobility

The argument is that successfully tackling these will put the UK at the forefront of the industries of the future. The Industrial Strategy also provides a mechanism for Government to support innovation, and our city’s success in this area is being noticed, with the Secretary of State Greg Clark publishing a new Aerospace Sector Deal yesterday providing £15m of investment for GKN’s new Global Technology Centre in Bristol.

We were broken into small groups to discuss the strategy’s development to date and the key challenges for our respective parts of the country. I took the opportunity to stress the importance of the strategy explicitly recognising the interdependence of social and economic outcomes.

In the short time I raised a number of points:

– I want the Industrial Strategy to make an explicit commitment to inclusive growth. I don’t mean we do the “serious” job of growing the economy and then run a project to get poor people involved. I mean unlock the challenge of developing an economic culture and machinery systemically includes and reduces inequality.

– Social immobility is an economic liability. It leaves unquantifiable amounts of talent undeveloped in a world in which skills is an essential component of any successful city. When we fail to access a diversity of thought, we lose access to the different world views, questions and creative tensions that can be a gateway to innovation and new business opportunities. Moreover, leaving people behind through growing inequality in the face of great wealth creation can result in the kind of social fragmentation, political disillusionment and polarisation that results in instability and further lost talent.

– We should have as high a regard for social policy expertise as an exportable technology as we do for things such a AI and big data capability. Cities across the world are grappling with the challenges of rapid urbanisation and searching for the policy mix that will enable growth without increasing population sickness, gentrification, environmental destruction, food instability, loneliness and many other challenges. While we want to take advantage of robots and AI, we must be careful we don’t end up using technology as the “easy” response to social failures resulting from bad economic growth. The challenges of an ageing society may, for example, be met in part through robots, and the event included an impressive demonstration of an experimental robot providing care support for adults with limited mobility. But longer, healthier more productive lives are also delivered through stronger human relations.

Our job in Bristol is to work with the Industrial Strategy because it present many opportunities in line with Bristol’s strengths, and we are currently working with our partners in the West of England to write a Local Industrial Strategy, to be published next year. As part of that we will ensure we test all assumptions and are explicit about the kind of economic development we need to flourish.