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.
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.