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Carers Rights Day support for unpaid carers on the cost-of-living crisis

Today’s guest blog is from Tim Poole, CEO of Carers Support Centre

We are celebrating Carers Rights Day today and here at Carers Support Centre we are holding a free support event to discuss the ongoing cost-of-living crisis and its effects on carers in Bristol and South Gloucestershire. We are also providing practical support and information at the event to help carers access support.

The current cost-of-living crisis is affecting everyone in the UK. With inflation having topped 10% for the first time since 1982 many people are finding it more difficult to make ends meets. 

It is the case that while all are being affected to some degree, some are affected more than others and often carers are amongst the hardest hit. 

The result of the crisis for carers is that it has created unprecedented pressure, not only affecting their finances but their health and wellbeing, adding to an already poor outlook for carers.

In trying to tackle the crisis, carers can be doubly constrained. Because of their caring responsibilities many are limited in the amount of income they can bring into the household. Additionally, carers have areas of expenditure that they just can’t afford to cut back on. 

An image from Carers Support Centre's Carer's Right's Day event, the crowd are watching a presentation.
Carers Support Centre’s Carer’s Rights Day Event

Recent research by Carers Trust shows that 48% of all unpaid family carers have had to give up work because of their caring role. The research also showed that 62% of unpaid family carers were spending 50 hours or more per week caring for a family member.  More time spent on caring responsibilities is less time to go out and earn an income.

So, less earned income which places an increased reliance on benefits. In itself the eligibility rules for claiming the main benefit for carers, Carers Allowance, severely restricts a carer’s earning ability. And if you are eligible, at just £69.70 per week Carers Allowance is lower than other comparable benefits like Job Seeker’s Allowance and Universal Credit and far less than in other European countries. It is woefully inadequate to meet the carer’s needs and the needs of those they care for.

Against that background of reduced income what money is coming into a carer’s household is buying less as inflation takes hold. Energy bills are the most obvious example of rising prices, but most people are noticing the effects on other everyday costs like the price of food.  

While many examine their household budget to see where cutbacks can be made, for many carers this just can’t be done without endangering the health and welfare of the person, or people, they care for. There are items that carers can’t cut back on, like special food items, laundry bills and the cost of equipment to help the person they care for.

With reduced income and increased expenditure, the cost-of-living crisis has added to an already gloomy picture for unpaid carers.

Carers have been under enormous pressure over the last two years due to the pandemic. Many were only just beginning to feel there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Unfortunately, for many of them that light is the oncoming pressures of the cost-of-living crisis. An increasing number of carers are contacting us, worried about the future for both the person they care for and themselves.

Carers Rights Day logo, with a red megaphone and white text on red background.

On Carers Rights Day, Carers Support Centre is once again calling on the Government to stop ignoring unpaid carers. Instead, they should be made a priority group for the extra financial support they so desperately need and deserve.  

At Carers Support Centre we are a charity which provides support, information and advice to unpaid carers living in the Bristol and South Gloucestershire areas – people of any age supporting family or friends who could not manage without their help.

You can find out more about our services for carers at www.carerssupportcentre.org.uk

Bristol’s progress on SEND

Today’s blog is by Councillor Asher Craig, Deputy Mayor of Bristol with responsibilities including Education and Children’s Services.

Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) returned to Bristol last month to assess whether special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) services have improved since their last visit in 2019. We are pleased that their report recognises that our Local Area has made sufficient progress in addressing four of the five key areas of weakness highlighted in the initial Ofsted/CQC inspection in 2019, improving outcomes for children and young people (CYP) with SEND.

This reflects the dedication of staff to implement service improvements at pace over the last three years, despite the additional challenges of the pandemic. The full report has been published on Bristol’s Local Offer website, before Ofsted and the CQC publish it themselves on Friday.

While inspectors found that we had not made sufficient progress in addressing the difficult relationships with parents and carers identified in 2019, it is welcome that they found that “the majority of parents and carers accessing services and support more recently, are positive about their experience”. We will continue to work hard to deliver further progress, as we build on ongoing work to improve relationships through a community of groups approach.

The report also notes that inclusion is central to Bristol’s Belonging Strategy, which was co-produced with children and young people from across our city: putting their voices, needs and ambitions for the future at the heart of Bristol’s recovery from the pandemic. Launched in October last year, the strategy supports the One City aim that everyone in Bristol will have the best start in life, gaining the support and skills they need as they grow up to thrive and prosper in adulthood.

Ofsted/CQC’s observations and comments on our progress

  • Improvements in accountability are leading to better support for children and young people (CYP) with SEND and school leaders value the transformation of systems and processes that has taken place since the previous inspection.
  • The identification and assessment of CYP with SEND in Bristol is improving, with the Ordinarily Available Provision document detailing interventions to meet needs, within typical school assessment and support processes. There has been a cultural shift in the way that professionals and schools, work together which is improving the way that they work together to meet the needs of children and young people with SEND.
  • Effective joint working between professionals has resulted in real improvements to the timeliness and quality of education, health and care (EHC) plans. There is a stronger focus on improving outcomes and ensuring the child or young person and their family’s voice has been captured. This work is resulting in children and young people being placed at the centre of the EHC assessment process.
  • The support in Bristol for children and young people with SEND is getting better. Even so, leaders know there is more to do to ensure that all children and young people attend school regularly. The proportion of children and young people with an EHC plan who have been excluded from school has fallen. A range of strategies have been introduced to ensure that pupils who are at risk of exclusion get the help they need from schools and professionals.
  • Parents and carers have a more mixed view of the quality of support available to children and young people with SEND than at the time of the last inspection. Some parents and carers continue to lack trust in the system and feel that leaders are not acting in the best interests of their children. However, the majority of parents and carers accessing services and support more recently, are positive about their experience. Plans are progressing to re-establish a formal body to represent parents and carers.

Improving SEND services remains a priority for Bristol City Council, with dedicated council staff and SEND leaders working alongside our partners in health, education, parents/carers and CYP with a deeply held, shared commitment to improving outcomes for CYP and their families. Our work is underpinned by our strategic approach outlined in the Bristol Children’s Charter and the Bristol Equality Charter, as well as the Mayor’s pledge to provide 450 new specialist school places, which is on track to be delivered in 2023.

The Council and local area partners including health will now work with the Department for Education (DfE) and NHS England to determine next steps and look to build on this progress. Our focus will be on how we can better communicate and work with all our parents and carers, ensuring that the parent, carer and young person’s voice – in all its diversity – is at the heart of our co-production work in SEND.

Please follow the Bristol Local Offer Facebook page for more updates on our Ofsted/CQC progress.

Qatar: Life, death, and football

Former Liverpool manager Bill Shankly is quoted as saying, “Some people believe football is a matter of life or death.” In Qatar, for thousands of migrant workers – it’s exactly that.

Migrant workers there are banned from joining trade unions. They have often had passports confiscated by employers, been left in massive debt by recruitment costs, and been left without basic protections.

6,500 south Asian migrant workers have died in Qatar in the decade since the hosting rights were awarded, reports the Guardian. Hundreds of thousands have faced human rights abuses, according to Amnesty International, who have called for a FIFA compensation fund of at least £350 million.

And, whether you’re Rovers or City, Bristol is united in the knowledge that Qatar got to host the World Cup thanks to a stitch-up. Sixteen of the people who voted on or were involved on a senior level in where to host this World Cup have been indicted, arrested, or banned from football/sport. Another eight have been accused or investigated. But, however many billions it cost Qatar to get the tournament, or build new stadia and infrastructure for it, the real price has been paid by migrant workers.

The English and Welsh FAs are both partnered with other European football associations to highlight human rights issues. At a tournament in a country where same-sex relationships are criminalised, Harry Kane will be among captains planning to wear ‘One Love’ armbands. England’s Three Lions Pride group are said to be boycotting the tournament, and YouGov found that 71% of Britons think it’s unacceptable for Qatar to host a major sporting event such as this.

At a time when our own national situation leaves us crying out for an escape, let alone the country’s favourite sport in the world’s biggest competition, the atmosphere feels at best fairly muted.

Of course, we’ll be supporting England – but, even if the men follow the women’s lead from the summer, football coming home again this winter would pale against the fact that so many workers won’t be.

Bristol’s new City Poet: Welcome to the new normal

Since 2016, our City Poets, appointed in partnership with Bristol Ideas, have helped to capture the spirit and soul of our city. They provide key insights into contemporary events and feelings, celebrating and challenging in equal measure. Our Poets’ words are a lens through which we can view ourselves and Bristol.

I was delighted to announce in July that Kat Lyons would be our new City Poet for 2022-24. Kat is a writer, performer, and workshop facilitator in spoken word poetry and performance storytelling. They use poetry to interrogate ideas, generate positive social change, and strengthen people’s connections to the world and each other. Their poetry has been featured in Under the Radar, Ink Sweat & Tears, and Bath Magg, and their debut poetry collection, Love Beneath the Nails, was published this year by Verve Poetry Press.

Last month, Kat shared their first official commission at Bristol’s Commission, performing ‘Welcome to the New Normal’ at my annual State of the City address. This inaugural poem heralds the return to ‘normal’ after the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s a powerful and evocative poem showing Bristol’s communities still finding their feet and pushing the limits of what the city has to offer. Among the revival and celebration though, the poem highlights those who haven’t ‘bounced back’ – those suffering the physical and mental after-effects of the pandemic or who are struggling to stay afloat amid the national cost of living crisis.  This telling of the fullness of our city’s story gives me every confidence that Kat will build on the strong foundations built by their predecessors: Caleb Parkin, Vanessa Kisuule, and Miles Chambers

Read and watch Kat’s poem below.

Bristol's new City Poet, Kat Lyons, stands at a wooden lectern.

Welcome to the new normal

Bristol is dressed for business. Poses for tourists

with pastel paintwork, a flattering angle

the fixed grin of bunting.

We remember its bare face, sat with it

till shuttered streets gasped open.

Now we shoulder through rush-hours, hoard the gold

of our free-time, plant bare legs in every scrap of green

water the dirt with spilled laughter.

Here in the new normal we have been released and now

we’re going out-out

with bodies dissolving in heat-haze and soundclash,

with full-spectrum kinship of Queer teens and drag queens,

with Aunties and elders keeping Carnival simmering

and bringing it back a yard.

We press our hips to the bassline, fold

three years of fun into a six-month suitcase.

Summer bulges at the seams but

we will sit on the lid, we will break

the hinges to make it fit.

Here in the new normal we still clap on Tuesdays

or Thursdays or Saturdays or any day

a show ends now. Music plays

lights come up-

let’s have a round of applause!

We’ve ‘bounced back’. Listen to the sound

as we ricochet. Please ignore

the dents in the walls, the gaps in the crowds.

We are back in the office and our handshakes

are firm again. We are back in school, minnows learning

to shoal again.

And we are at home

and it was never just flu

and we never quite got over it.

We wear our isolation like a sodden overcoat

too heavy to unbutton on our own.

Here in the new normal we walk back from the shops past tents

mushrooming under bushes, on scrubland, in parks.

We try not to stare, wonder

whose aspirations lie covered by leafmould

at the slipperiness of the path

at how easy it is to fall.

And either we’re getting stronger

or the shopping bags are lighter every week.

Here in the new normal

we are up to our necks

and we have tightened our belts

and we have pulled ourselves together

and we have pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps.

We hold up our bowls and ask for more

than cliches. The electricity meter is hungry but so are the kids

and there are no calories in a media-friendly soundbite.

We put another jumper on, stuff fear

deep in our pockets. We have learned

we pivot faster than governments can spin. We turn

to our neighbours, turn ideas into actions

libraries into warm havens.

We gather in backrooms and pack bread and beans and nappies.

We gather in community gardens and grow

kale and courgettes

callaloo and choki

grip a donated spade and dig

a little clearing in dementia’s brambled ground.

We gather in Easton. Sit cross-legged in the street

the taste of prayer sweeter than fruit on our tongues.

Tablecloths bloom on the tarmac

as the sun sets again

as we give thanks again

as we pile strangers’ plates high again

as the dusk wraps a blanket around us all.

We tell our children bedtime stories

in more than 90 languages, sing

in a choir of almost half a million voices.

In this electric city, the static charge of life

touching life touching life

touching

life illuminates our steps. We walk on through the new normal

in the knowledge that we rise and fall

on each other’s breath.

All aboard Bristol’s Underground

Building on the success of securing £424 million for clean energy through City Leap, creating another 1,000 new jobs, I’m at COP27 this week banging the drum for Bristol again. It’s only by engaging internationally that we can continue to unlock the transformational investment that Bristol needs. That’s how we can build the modern infrastructure that Bristolians deserve.

As we continue to make the case for a low-carbon mass transit system, and move towards a West of England Combined Authority consultation, I’m sharing the first two initial studies in full.

The first report is by CH2M and Steer Davies Gleave. The second, by Jacobs and Steer, is an early phase options report.

Mayor Marvin Rees (right) stands at a lectern. Bright lights can be seen in the darkened hall.

I previously shared the executive summaries in an earlier blog, and said in my State of the City Address last month:

“We have continued the work to build a mass transit system that will transform the way we move around the city region. The economic and geological assessment work has been done. We are about to commit a further £15 million with our neighbours to take this work to the next stage.

“Overground and underground networks are fast, efficient, low carbon transport systems. They are essential for a modern, crowded city. Bristolians have waited long enough.

“There cannot be any U-turns, no shying away from the challenge of delivery for those who come next, be they Bristol councillors or the combined authority.

“We know what needs to happen. It’s now there for you to complete it.”

These two expert studies are clear as day. A mass transit, with underground elements, is deliverable for Bristol.

That’s not to say that there won’t be challenges. There are for every major project that’s ever been delivered.

We cannot turn back the clocks to the decades of non-delivery. Bristol’s first new train station is due to open this year at Portway, with more on the way. And we’ve secured £95 million to upgrade Temple Meads and unlock Temple Quarter.

The negative voices we hear at full council must be contradicted. It was even suggested in the chamber this week that cities like Paris don’t need mass transit because everyone can just cycle everywhere. Bonne chance! Parisians have the space for more choice of infrastructure above ground, precisely because they have sixteen metro lines with over 300 stations, as well as the five RER lines and eight lines of Trainsilien trains.

I invite everyone to read these studies. There can then be no excuse for continuing to talk down our city and its ambitions. With the work already done and the next phase in progress, there can be no excuse for failure.

Installing further fire safety measures

Councillor Tom Renhard stands with College Green behind him
This guest blog is by Councillor Tom Renhard, Cabinet Member for Housing Delivery and Homes.

Ensuring fire safety at all of our 62 high-rise tower blocks is a crucial responsibility. This is why we have invested £2.5 million every year to make fire safety improvements to our blocks. As new risks have come to light we have had to take an urgent decision in consultation with Avon Fire and Rescue Service to introduce further measures.

Fire safety has been especially high profile since the Grenfell tragedy in 2017, and we carried out numerous checks and reviews of our blocks to be sure they didn’t have the same cladding and were safe. We made sure to install fire breaks, improve compartmentation and replace fire doors in many locations. These improvements have helped on the occasions that they’ve been needed, to prevent the spread of a fire from one flat to another. At the fire at Twinnell House on 24th September, we saw the importance of these measures when a fire started by an Ebike battery was contained to one flat. 

However, we must constantly remain vigilant about fire safety as research, testing and regulations change. We continually improve our approach to fire safety and had begun a pilot to roll out a sprinkler programme. New information in regarding fire safety in blocks has developed since those post-Grenfell checks took place and we are in a better place now to understand what is needed than before. 

These changes, as well as new national PAS9980 standard inspection we have been conducting, gave us information on four blocks in Barton Hill (Longlands, Ashmead, Harwood and Barton) in May this year, and four more (Gilton, Croydon, Yeamans and Broughton) last month which meant we introduced a Waking Watch.

And now, Avon Fire and Rescue Service have reviewed the arson at Eccleston House on the 20th  October and concluded that the EPS (Expanded Polystyrene) cladding contributed to the spread of the fire.

As a result, we have taken the decision to add new precautionary measures in all blocks that currently have EPS cladding.  These measures are:

  • – the introduction of simultaneous evacuation policies in all blocks clad with EPS, enabled by waking watch provision until evacuation alarms can be installed (this will be applied to 38 blocks in total)
  • – the development of a new programme to remove all EPS cladding over the next eight to ten years
  • – the acceleration of the sprinkler programme, with the need for sprinklers evaluated on a block-by-block basis. 

This means that over the course of this week we will introduce Waking Watches to an additional 27 blocks (11 already have them: the eight listed above and three in response to the Eccleston house fire, Phoenix, Eccleston and Beaufort).

Letters will be hand delivered to residents on the day Waking Watch provision commences and text messages will be sent to make sure there is no confusion as to evacuation plans in the event of a fire. We will also be publishing our latest fire safety risk assessments from next week for each high-rise.

We are making sure that, as well as our residents, our partners in other Core Cities and national partners are updated on these changes. We have also written to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities regarding these important changes and are seeking financial support for these additional costs.  

The new Waking Watch provision is an additional precautionary measure only but it is something we feel must be done to reassure our residents that their homes are protected until the works programme is complete.  

Since my last State of the City…

Last week I delivered my annual State of the City Address.

Beforehand, we looked back on what has been another busy 12 months for Bristol. Here’s just some of what’s happened:

£424m secured for City Leap: clean energy to cut 140,000 tonnes of emissions by 2027

The Killers and Sir Elton John played Ashton Gate Stadium

£95m secured for Temple Meads & Temple Quarter regeneration

Queen + Adam Lambert played YTL Arena Bristol

Sporting Quarter approved: new basketball stadium and hundreds of new homes

99% of families offered one of their top three primary school choices

Events brought another 60,000 people and £1.2m spend into our city centre

Silverthorne Lane approved: £375m scheme with a new secondary school for east Bristol

Daryn Carter, founder of Bristol Pride, given Freedom of the City

Hartcliffe City Farm opened

Val Jeal, founder of One25, given Freedom of the City

Hartcliffe Way Reuse & Recycling Centre opened

Felix Road Adventure Playground celebrated its 50th anniversary

Blaise Plant Nursery donated 10,000 plants for local food growing

Grayson Perry exhibition held at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery

Over 1.3 million people watched Bristol lead on climate action through TED 22

Rainbow crossing repainted ahead of Bristol Pride

St Mary le Port restoration and regeneration approved

Bristol in New York for Global Goals Week and UN General Assembly

Filming booms in Bristol alongside £13.6m Bottle Yard Studios expansion

Our School Streets pilot expanded to more primary schools

Castle Park facility saw Bristol crowned Heat Pump City of the Year

Cabot Tower reopened after restoration works

Affordable house-building at a 12 year record high

Supported Ukrainians in Bristol as a City of Sanctuary

75th anniversary of Bristol’s twinning with Bordeaux and Hannover marked

Her Majesty The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrated

Protected frontline services with our sixth balanced budget

Called for sustainable urbanisation ahead of COP26

Bedminster on telly: Museum of Us tells more of our city’s history

Bristol had its say: 14,000 people respond to survey on Colston statue

Welcomed Hongkongers to Bristol, our City of Sanctuary

Called for over £330bn climate investment in cities at COP26

Bristol Rovers and Bristol Rovers WFC promoted

Another £15m invested in a further 204 new specialist SEND school places

£18m investment planned for New Cut and Harbour bridges

Bristol mourned Her Majesty The Queen

Empire Fighting Chance raised £820,000+ with the October Club

31 Welcoming Spaces opened to support people with the national cost of living crisis

Bristol proclaimed His Majesty King Charles III

Bristol’s Giuseppe Dell’Anno won The Great British Bake Off

Jayde Adams did Bristol proud on Strictly Come Dancing

Our community meals service delivered 8,500 meals every month

Supported Afghans in our City of Sanctuary

£9m invested to expand the Bedminster and Temple Quarter heat networks

£42m of support secured to help Bristolians with the Clean Air Zone

Bristol One City brought together 300 city partners around COP and the cost of living

Created 80 hectares of new wetlands in Avonmouth and Severnside flood defences

Bristol’s dementia-friendly Alive Allotment featured on Gardeners’ World

Bristol completed second Voluntary Local Review on the Sustainable Development Goals

Precedent set to protect night-time economy venues, like Motion Bristol

£8.5m invested in the new Elmfield School for Deaf Children

Bristol Harbour Festival & Bristol International Balloon Fiesta returned

New citywide campaign and Women’s Safety Charter launched with partners

Goram Homes started on 268 new homes (55% affordable) and wildlife corridor in Lockleaze

Strive Interns scheme with UWE and HL created dozens more opportunities

Another 1,800 Bristol workers got a pay rise onto the real Living Wage

International cricket returned to Bristol’s County Ground

Bristol’s Disability Equality Commission recruited their Chair and first Commissioners

We’ve renewed our £40 million Council Tax Reduction Scheme

State of the City Address 2022

*Check against delivery*

Tonight, I’d like to talk about what it is to be Mayor of Bristol, to lead a city. I’ll talk about how we lay the foundations of change, deliver and set the challenge to continue the momentum.

But I want to start with a promise rooted in the moment in which we find ourselves.

We will do our best to support the city through this national cost of living crisis.

I don’t pretend we will be able to hold off all the hardship.

But the work we have done over the last six years to build affordable homes, extend the real Living Wage and tackle hunger has been an investment in the individual and community resilience we will need. And the work we have done over the last six months with partners to set up a network of Welcoming Spaces in communities will offer immediate support.

These Welcoming Spaces are community venues people can go to and hang out, access Wi-Fi, be warm and, if needed, access support and advice on anything from finance to emotional wellbeing, mental health, employment and skills.

I want to thank those who have come forward to host these spaces. They are among those people who just seem to keep giving their time and energy to make our city better.

They still need volunteers. If that’s you – put your contacts on the slips on your chair and hand them in at the end, or the Can Do Bristol website is also listed on the form.

I’d also like to thank the benefactor, who wants to remain anonymous.   

I can’t emphasise just how challenging the coming months will continue to be. The current cost of living crisis is mirrored by a cost of operating crisis being faced by the public and voluntary community sector organisations who are most relied on in times like these.

In City Hall our operating costs are rising. This looks like a best-case scenario of us having to find around £30 million in savings in 2023/24, around 10% of the council budget. The worst case is £62 million.

It’s important we come to a shared understanding of what Bristol is – and the circumstances in which we find ourselves.  That’s because, as a proverb says, “a problem well defined is a problem half solved”. But it’s also because a shared understanding will make it more likely that we can agree on the complexities, contradictions and assess the trade-offs we must engage with if we are going to deliver anything at all.

So: Bristol is a city of 42 square miles. We have 472,000 residents. We currently have around 17,000 people on the housing wating list, 1,000 families in temporary accommodation and the worst housing affordability ratio of all Core Cities. Our population is predicted to be 550,000 by 2050.

We have a £15 billion economy, two world class universities, thriving business sectors and the highest graduate retention rate outside of London.

This lives alongside entrenched inequalities – 70,000 people living in the 10% most deprived areas in England, including 19,000 children and 8,000 older people. We have among the lowest rates of people going to university in the country.

We must tackle all this by building homes and generating good jobs. It’s a challenge made all the more complex by the need to invest and live within the limits set by the climate and ecological emergencies.

We are a city with a history of under delivery. Bristol has been unflatteringly described as a city that succeeds despite itself. One of the more serious consequences is that we inherited a city infrastructure that is at end of life. Historically, we haven’t planned ambitiously for performance.

The UK is one of the most centralised countries in Europe. The power and finance needed to get things done is concentrated in an unimaginative, dysfunctional and distant central government bureaucracy. The funding we do get is organised around national agendas rather than local understanding, it’s short term and given out competitively rather than aligned to an evidence based strategy for national prosperity.

Our international context is equally challenging. From COP to the UN, the international organisations and forums through which we engage in global governance are yet to deliver the scale of change we need at the pace we need it. From decarbonisation, the recovery of nature, managing the growing global migration crisis and tackling political extremism.

Working with that Bristol in that context, we have found a way to get stuff done. And the city needs that to continue.

I am not saying we have been perfect or that we don’t wish some things had worked out differently. Every journey combines success with failure. But we learned as we went, made big decisions, grappled with complexity, faced the head winds and delivered.

Our approach is changing both the physical city and the nature of the city.

Temple Island is becoming an economic hub at the heart of the Temple Quarter.  We secured £95 million to unlock 10,000 homes, 22,000 jobs and regenerate Temple Meads Station. Three new entrances will help double capacity to 22 million passengers per year and restore Brunel’s station façade.

The old sorting office, “the chipped tooth in Bristol’s smile”, is being replaced by the University of Bristol’s new campus.

We have started our own housing company, Goram Homes, building 268 homes in Romney House, Lockleaze. By giving Goram responsibility for housing delivery and social homes, we can build homes at a rate never before seen in Bristol – affordable house building at is already at a 12 year high.

We’ve broken ground at Hengrove Park, and will have 1,435 new homes, 50% affordable.

We’ve got developers investing in Debenhams, Broadmead, and The Galleries with really exciting mixed use projects.

We’ve provided £1.3 million to support small businesses to bring vacant properties back into use and to reanimate our high streets.

Cotham Hill, King Street and Princess Victoria Street pedestrianisations have helped the hospitality business sector recover.

We’ve opened Addison Apartments – five, affordable homes in Sea Mills designed to meet the housing and support needs of young people with complex physical and learning disabilities. 

Bedminster Green is going up, with low carbon District Heat Network pipework going in. We’ve consulted on Western Harbour and Frome Gateway. The Western Harbour is in master planning and Frome Gateway is on its way.

Our City Leap partner has been agreed, and will deliver half a billion pounds of clean energy investment, saving around 140,000 tonnes of carbon across the city and creating a thousand jobs in the first five years.

New paths built in Stoke Park have made it more accessible. St George Park lake restoration has improved wildlife habitat and residents’ access.

Hartcliffe Way Reuse and Recycling Centre opened after 25 years.

We have continued the work to build a mass transit system that will transform the way we move around the city region. The economic and geological assessment work has been done. We are about to commit a further £15 million with our neighbours to take this work to the next stage. 

Overground and underground networks are fast, efficient, low carbon transport systems. They are essential for a modern, crowded city. Bristolians have waited long enough. 

There cannot be any U-turns, no shying away from the challenge of delivery for those who come next, be they Bristol councillors or the combined authority. 

We know what needs to happen. It’s now there for you to complete it.  

We continue to drive inclusive economic growth for the city.

Bristol is now a Living Wage City. This year 132 more employers were accredited and 1,834 workers have been uplifted on to a real Living Wage.

Around 50 jobs were created at Channel 4’s new creative hub in Finzels Reach. The Bottle Yard Studios in south Bristol will have a £13.5 million expansion – creating 135 jobs during the refurbishment with nearly 900 jobs created over the next 10 years. Film and TV productions filmed on locations across Bristol generated £21 million for our economy in 2021/22, the highest for a decade.

The Strive Internship programme coordinated dozens of paid internships for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic university students living or studying in our city region.

Stepping Up continues to win awards for excellence in diversity and mentoring.

And we have the City Office and the Bristol One City Plan, which currently has over 20 task and finish groups working on issues including:

  • Underrepresented groups in teaching,
  • Green skills, 
  • Fleet decarbonisation,
  • Domestic Abuse Housing Accreditation 
  • and Freight consolidation  
  • and The Living Rent Commission is underway.

And right now, in half term, we’re tackling holiday hunger – providing £15 vouchers for school children eligible for Free School meals.

So, let’s look in a bit more detail at some of the examples of delivery. I want to share how they actually got done or are in the process of getting done.

I will start with one of my personal favourites: the arena.

When we came to office, we inherited the components of a plan to deliver a city centre arena. It would have 10,000 seats. An operator had been identified who was planning for mid-size events. We picked up that plan and we ran with it but began to discover the numbers were unravelling.

Projected costs rose from £79 million to £95 million to £135 million and climbing. We continued to drive for delivery but were clear we would deliver an arena the city could afford.

We worked with two contractors as a result but the costs continued to spiralled.

Ultimately, we were faced with borrowing over £160 million to build an arena with a 35 year break-even financial model with all the risk held by council taxpayers.

In the meantime, we had been in talks with L&G whose plans for a mixed-use development including homes, hotel, conference centre and retail were predicted to generate three times as many jobs, three times the economic value and twice the tax revenue. We were also in talks with YTL who were offering to convert the Brabazon Hangars into a 17,000+ seater arena, on their land, at their cost and their financial risk.

I had to make a choice about what to do with Temple Island. The political wind from the council chamber, the Twitterati and commentariat supported building the arena there against the financial intelligence.

We could have proceeded with the decision based on this political noise or we could make the right decision based on that financial evidence. We made the right decision. If we had built the arena, we would have carried that debt and the new building into the lockdown. The financial and reputational consequences of that would have been considerable, to put it mildly.

Instead, we now get the homes, the hotel and the conference centre and jobs on Temple Island and the UK’s third largest and Europe’s most sustainable arena.

This demonstrates the ability to use hard power to rise about the chamber’s noise and make evidenced based decisions and use soft power to attract partners and investment.

A second example is our ageing city infrastructure. 

Bristol’s infrastructure is decaying. From the crumbling harbour wall, to a collapsing chocolate path to at least eight bridges with structural flaws, the city we have inherited is one in which so much is at end of life. I liken it to taking ownership of a car that has never been serviced and then told the cam belt urgently needed changing. In the case of the chocolate path, it snapped.   

We knew from our engineers and senior highways team, there were structural flaws but we didn’t have the money readily available. So we made the right safety decision to close it in December 2016, just months after coming into office. We then set about planning the funding, but in early 2020 it slid into the river on the very day we had closed contractor bids for the repairs.

We learned from that and set out to fund £18 million of repairs to our bridges: Redcliffe, Prince Street, Gaol Ferry, Sparke Evans, Bath Bridges, Bedminster Bridges, Langton Street, Vauxhall.  And of course recently, Avon Bridge.

These problems have been ignored for years and nothing was done because political decisions often follow public commentary and controversy at the expense of less visible underlying challenges.

For a third example let’s look at how houses are built.

We must remember that house building isn’t only significant because of social justice and health, but the kinds of homes we build and where we build them will be the among the biggest determinants of the impact our urbanisation has on climate change.

Houses get built in a different ways:  The minority are built by the council on land we own, like Hope Rise, and funded by the city. They are a minority because since the 1980s, we have only been able to use finance sourced by the rents of those who already live in the council’s housing stock. Yes – the system for council home building is that they have to be funded from the pockets of existing council tenants. 

Some homes get built by private developers on private land much like Bedminster Green. We build relationships with developers to ensure they build well, build affordable, mix tenures and protect land for employment and nature.

Some get built on council owned land, in partnership with developers like the 173 homes at Boklok’s Airport Road and 185 homes L&G’s Bonnington Walk. Both of those were slated for development for decades, but it took personal conversations at MIPIM and at City Hall to get them over the line.

Where we own the freehold of the land, like the Debenhams site, we have more influence and we use it, again to deliver against our city aims while acknowledging developer’s need for financial viability.

Some have raised concerns that we have got involved in planning. We have. We’ve been elected to shape the city and the outcomes we want cannot be left to the chances of a developer aligning with an out of date Local Plan and a quasi-judicial process. We don’t interfere with the legal Planning Authority processes, but we work to push the UN SDG’s, affordability targets, mixed tenures, modern methods of construction and active frontages.

We need to understand the importance of this. As early as 1963 the World Health Organisation said:

“after protecting world peace, urban planning is the most important challenge we face”

So, we have to be there.

What those examples show us is this:

You have to understand the processes and make the systems work.

You have to be prepared and able to take evidence-based decisions

You have to be able to build productive relationships

If you can line those three things up, you’ll be able to deliver on the promises you made the city. That is the challenge for those that come next.

And there is a risk to future delivery. 2024 will see a new kind of political leadership of and from the council. I have shared my own concerns about that model. No need to share them again here.

But there is hope. Structures of leadership, and the styles and strategy of individual Leaders are important but not definitively important. It is not positions of leadership, but acts of leadership that enable change.  

The success of the committee system will be partly judged on its ability to deliver. That will depend on its ability to work with the city rather than falling into the council chamber’s natural tendency to look inwards.

The truth is, when you first come into office, you are limited in your insights. We come into power through a system of retail politics characterised by the making of promises and offering of solutions to problems we think are important to you.

But when you walk through the door ideology meets pragmatism. You must work with everyone, including unlikely allies, to change the systems and processes you can control, and influence those you don’t, so that things get done. All the while you have to pray the economic, political and social forces over which you have no control whatsoever such as inflation, wider stability and health end up working in your favour.  

The world in which we have to operate is characterised by complexity and nuance. But our ability to lead and enable change is squeezed by simplistic and binary positioning in our politics.

Former Conservative MP Rory Stewart recently said:

the things that matter require quite complicated, thoughtful long conversations where you’re learning all the time what you got wrong, and instead of which you’ve got a culture that’s developed of people who have very strong opinions which are frequently very popular. But what we’re lacking is the time for thoughtful, nuanced conversations in which we admit we could be wrong.

That complexity means all solutions come at a price and the longer a crisis if left to fester, the greater the price for that solution.

The example of housing shows us if you want to protect land for nature you have to build at density and height; or you sprawl and lose nature; or you don’t build at all and you compound the housing crisis. You have to choose your solution but you then have to own the cost.

My time so far has also strengthened my understanding that leadership and our city are collective acts.

Political leadership must grow beyond seeing the council as merely a collection of services. We must be more than that. Our former Chief Constable Andy Marsh once said:

“World class public sector leadership is about what you influence more than what you control.”

There is a small view of politics that says Local Government is only about local services.

But working for the good of our cities today also means working for the good of the international populations who help make up our cities, which means working for the world’s common good.

As well as this, working for the good of the city requires influencing national and international trends and policies that directly affect city lives.

The finance we need to pay for homes, infrastructure and decarbonisation is not contained within our city boundaries. We have taken this challenge on as part of the leadership of 3Ci. We have identified over £330 billion of low carbon and net-zero projects across the UK’s largest cities and we are reaching out for international finance.

And this work with the world’s cities is essential. The battle against climate change will be won or lost in cities. 55% of the world now live in cities and this will be two thirds by 2070. Cities consume 80% of the world’s energy and are responsible for 75% of emissions. Chaotic and inefficient urbanisation will increase the pressure on the planet. But more efficient living at higher densities, that our cities offer, can minimise the resources each person uses, minimising the price the planet pays for hosting us in our growing numbers.  

But fundamentally we have a global responsibility as Bristol. We are increasingly sought out by fellow city leaders and city global networks, think tanks and global organisations. They see us as a city who have a meaningful contribution to make in organising and governing ourselves in the face of the political, economic, social and environmental challenges in front of us.

And as part of our ongoing international work, I am pleased to announce our newest international ambassadors agreed by our international strategy board.

They are:

  • Helen Cole – CEO and Founder of In Between Time
  • Shawn Sobers – UWE Professor and History Commission member
  • Ellis Genge – The Bristol Bears and England prop forward

They’ll use their expertise and relationships to increase Bristol’s cultural and economic presence on the world stage, as well as take part in activities within the city that build on the links of our international diaspora.

I’m going to finish with a challenge to us, to you, to me as a city.

I have talked about the responsibility of politicians to provide good quality leadership. But all I have talked about today points to that collective responsibility, and we have to make space for better quality leadership. My request is that we consider the possibility that the politics we get isn’t only down to politicians. It might actually be a distilled reflection of what we are as the electorate.

We need to make space for – and even value – politicians who tell us what we don’t want to hear. We all know what people want to hear – and some politicians court popularity by promising all wants can be met.

At this time that would sound like a political message that tells you: we can have 27 fully staffed libraries, all 24 of our children’s centres, tackle homelessness and the housing crisis without either building on new land or building higher on brownfield sites; and we will be able to make every capital project from plimsoll bridge to the Iron Bridge the priority.

This is a political message that has its heart in campaigning rather than governing: everyone gets their first choice school, a CAZ that cleans the air but doesn’t charge, and the decarbonisation of our city systems that emerges magically from the sheer force of political will, without the need to secure the £14 billion we know it will actually cost.

Shouldn’t we all want a leadership that levels with you about the trade-offs, that can afford it’s plans and has some idea of consequences. 

We are soon to balance our budget. With the deficit I referenced earlier, we are working through proposals that we previously considered as red lines – not because we want to, or because we feel comfortable, about it, but because we must.

There is no more fat to trim in local government. 

We face a financial situation where a perfect harm free future is not available to us.

If we recognise the worlds complexity where every solution has a price, where we are not in total control, and we have growing need with shrinking resource – then we will have a more balanced framework to assess and engage with political leadership.

And it’s in the engagement – not just in loudly criticising or holding to account – that we make a democracy which will build an open, tolerant and inclusive city.

I believe we have laid the physical and cultural foundations for that change, and I hope we can continue working together to take on these challenges together.

ENDS

New support tackling domestic violence and abuse

Lucy Downes IRIS Network Director smiling
Today’s guest blog is from Lucy Downes, IRIS Network Director

Survivors of domestic sexual violence and abuse can experience major impacts on their physical and mental health. The signs of this trauma can easily be missed by health care professionals during consultations.

Some survivors of domestic violence would like to disclose information to a health professional, but often do not feel confident or comfortable raising concerns on their own. Many even fear they will not be believed. Attempting to change this, IRISi have launched a new intervention, called ADViSE, which is now running in sexual health clinics across Bristol and South Gloucestershire.

ADViSE stands for “Assessing for Domestic Violence and Abuse in Sexual Health Environments”. As it suggests, the programme supports sexual health staff to identify and respond to the signs of both Domestic and Sexual Violence and Abuse – and enables them to directly refer patients to a specialist service for support.

It builds on the successful evidence-based model, ‘IRIS’ (Identification and Referral to Improve Safety), which is IRISi’s flagship programme in GP practices nationwide. This new service is jointly commissioned by Bristol City Council and South Gloucestershire Council and will be delivered locally at Unity Sexual Health clinics in collaboration with Next Link, a local specialist domestic abuse support service.

According to a study published by the World Health Organisation in 2012, women affected by domestic abuse and sexual violence are three times more likely to have gynaecological and sexual health problems. Another paper, “Domestic violence in a genitourinary medicine setting–an anonymous prevalence study in women”, reports that 47% of women attending sexual health services will have experienced domestic abuse and sexual violence at some point in their lives and these services can be the first point of contact for support.

While we know that domestic and sexual violence are gendered issues that predominantly affect women, violence can occur in all relationships, across all genders and sexualities. Sexual Health clinics are safe places for LGBTQ+ communities, who may not feel comfortable attending their GP or non-specialist health settings. So, ADViSE is essential in addressing domestic and sexual violence and abuse within these settings.

ADVICE services leaflet. On the right is an image of a medical professional writing on a note pad. On the bottom right of the image is the IRISi Interventions logo. The top left corner has the ADVISE logo, with text reading Assessing for Domestic Violence and Abuse in Sexual Health Environments. Text in the centre reads: ADViSE is running in Bristol and South Gloucestershire - The pilot project aims to help survivors to confidentially disclose their experiences with staff, who can then offer referrals for specialist support.

But how does it work?

ADViSE provides a holistic approach based on on-going training and support for sexual health clinic staff, giving them confidence and knowledge to spot the signs of domestic sexual violence and abuse.

A domestic and sexual violence expert, called an ‘Advocate Educator’ (AE), works alongside an ADViSE clinical lead (CL), a sexual health practitioner committed to improving the response to domestic abuse and sexual violence. Together they provide specialist training for the sexual health clinic staff, teaching them to create an environment that is a safe space for survivors to be heard and to disclose experiences.

The AE also provides advice and consultancy for the sexual health team, they are also the point of contact for patients who would like support and advocacy around domestic abuse and sexual violence. The AE becomes embedded in the sexual health clinics, thus giving patients essential access to both health and domestic abuse and sexual violence services.

This service is available to all Unity Sexual Health clinics across Bristol and South Gloucestershire, serving a population of nearly a million people. The launch of ADViSE means more survivors will have access to vital support. It also shows the importance of commitment from public investors to establish a robust and well-integrated model to address the needs of domestic abuse and sexual violence survivors in a holistic and sustainable way.

Bristol in New York: cities that never sleep on the SDGs

Working for the interests of Bristol means being committed to getting stuff done within the city’s boundaries. But it also means shaping the national and international context in which we work. Simply, we must think globally and act locally. National and international policy and global events directly affect Bristol’s residents every day, and we are a globally connected city. Bristol has a leadership responsibility not just to work for our own good, but for that of our country and our planet.

Last month, I accepted an invitation to attend Global Goals Week alongside the United Nations General Assembly in New York city to represent Bristol. The wider trip further supported the Council’s international strategy: promoting trade; continuing working with other cities ahead of COP27; and supporting Bristol organisations’ international ambitions.

Global Goals Week is an annual week of action, awareness, and accountability: a shared commitment between hundreds of partners across civil society, business, universities, and the UN to accelerate the delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They recognise that social and environmental justice must go hand-in-hand. The SDGs are 17 interdependent goals for sustainable development, with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling the climate emergency and working to preserve our natural environments.

Bristol has been on the forefront of the SDG movement among cities. We were the first city in the UK, and one of the first three cities in the world, to undertake a Voluntary Local Review. We have mapped the SDGs into Bristol’s One City Plan and the Council’s Corporate Strategy, and ensure that all developers know that it is our aim not just to measure ourselves against the SDGs but to deliver them. This international reputation is one of the reasons I was invited to New York.

We have led on the argument that delivery of the SDGs will not succeed if left to national governments alone, but must be driven through cities. I spoke at the 17 Rooms (a partnership between the Centre for Sustainable Development at Brookings and The Rockefeller Foundation) flagship summit and attended the UN General Assembly ‘Business as Usual’ discussion.

At the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Goalkeepers event, I represented Bristol alongside Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, the Mayor of Freetown, Sierra Leone. Yvonne and I have been key to the growing awareness of the need to get finance and resource into the hands of city leaders, so that we can deliver futures that are both more just and more sustainable.

I also attended the Emmerson Collective’s launch of the Climate Migration Council, as the spokesperson for local government. Participants from every continent discussed how we are going to take on the growing challenge of climate-driven migration, with the prospect of 150 million climate-driven migrants by the middle of this century. This will mean minimising the climate push factors of migration, but also require national governments to work in partnership with cities and civil society to look at the world’s migration framework with a view to providing climate-driven migrants with a proper legal status.

I met with Eric Adams, the new Mayor of New York City. We talked about the standing that he has, as the Mayor of New York, one of the world’s most prominent cities, to advance the voice and influence of the world’s cities at COP27 next month. We also discussed further strengthening Bristol’s ties with New York, one of the world’s biggest city economies, and work that we can both do as Mayors of African heritage to reach out to Mayors on the African continent and around the world to support just and sustainable development.

I met with our government and business representatives, including Visit Britain, in the United States. In my meeting with the consul general and her team, we talked about investment opportunities across Bristol, and the other Core Cities. We talked about our ground-breaking City Leap partnership, securing over £424 million of initial investment from American and Swedish companies for clean energy infrastructure in Bristol. I also shared information about 3Ci, of which we are a founding member, following on from their investment conference in Bristol last month. 3Ci have identified around £330 billion of investment opportunities across our country. We also talked about how to further promote Bristol’s tourism offer in the world’s largest economy, as a base for the woe and beyond, with the opportunities that come with the significance of Bristol 650: the 650th anniversary of our city being granted county status by Edward III, which we look forward to marking next year.

Thanks to our strong international relationships and growing reputation as a global city, partner organisations kindly covered the costs of my outbound and return travel and accommodation. My diary for September is published on Bristol City Council’s website.