Category Archives: Economy

Speaking up for Bristol in Parliament

Last November, I was invited to give evidence to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee for their inquiry on ‘Post-pandemic economic growth: Levelling up’. MPs explored how local and regional government structures could be better equipped to deliver growth, with specific reference to the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda. Last week saw the publication of their report.

Giving evidence alongside other mayors, the Northern Powerhouse and Western Gateway, I made the point that too often the Government introduces new funding for cities and local authorities to compete over. This process undermines our ability to fund and secure private investment. The parliamentary report picks up this point, with MPs also recognising the challenge around capacity of local areas to bid for government funds.

They put a bunch of money out there and say to us, “Fight for that.” It is a limited pot of money. We are in a zero-sum game with other authorities when we are trying to collaborate across the country. We cannot have that as an approach. That undermines our ability to fund.”

Post-pandemic economic growth: Levelling up (page 20)

In response to the recent speech by the Prime Minister, I said that if levelling up is to translate into coherent and specific initiatives, as the MPs argue it must, it is vital that it targets those living in deprivation. The report agrees, noting that any levelling up agenda must seek to tackle inequality within regions, not least in cities that are seen to be well performing.

I also echo the select committee’s disappointment on how little detail has been put forward to explain what the Government sees ‘levelling up’ to mean and how it will be delivered, or indeed measured. The lack of a coherent framework risks undermining our ability to plan and, ultimately, deliver. As our One City Plan and focus on delivering the Sustainable Development Goals demonstrates, it’s vital to have measurable outcomes if any ambitions around tackling inequalities are to be fully realised.


A friend of mine is a senior Army officer. He says, “Make a plan, any plan. Just make a bloody plan.”

We do not have one. We have no real coherent national framework with which to work. I do not [know] what we are pointing at, as a country, at the moment, and that undermines our ability to plan.

Post-pandemic economic growth: Levelling up (page 17)

Levelling up

The Prime Minister has today set out his ambitions for ‘levelling up’, with the stated aims of improving services and boosting community pride across the UK, seeking to create a more balanced economy. We agree with the ambition to give everyone the chance of a good job on decent pay, and are determined to make Bristol a true Living Wage City – where poverty pay is a thing of the past. Increasing access to opportunity no matter where you live is at the heart of our approach in Bristol and something we should all be working towards as a country.

Levelling up will only be successful if it targets those living in deprivation –  it is vital that ‘levelling up’ policy impacts the communities and groups that need it most.

We encourage Government to focus on the challenges of poverty, social mobility, inequalities, and on the groups most affected by these challenges, that the pandemic has further entrenched. If Government takes too much of a blunt, North versus South approach, those poorer communities, often hidden and invisible across our country and in our major cities, will continue to miss out and get left even further behind.

Bristol is an example of this complexity. We have a fantastic story to tell – a £15 billion economy with sectors of high growth and opportunity. And yet we are one of the most unequal cities in England with six areas in the top 1% most deprived in the UK and 20% of our children at risk of hunger every day. Writing off deprivation in Bristol just because we live further south than, say, Birmingham, would only see more Bristolians fall further south of the poverty line.

The last thing we need is for regions or areas to be set against each other, dictated by competitive funding pots from Whitehall, which inevitably will result in the very people who stand to benefit the most missing out. In recent years, that Bingo-style approach has set hungry children in Bristol against hungry children in Plymouth, and pitted homeless people in Bristol against homeless people in Manchester: for the Prime Minister’s pledge for ‘levelling up’ to be ‘win-win’, we need fundamental change.

What is required is a national approach that recognises that our focus is addressing the big challenges of the day – including the climate and ecological emergencies – in a way which takes all communities forward and provides ample opportunities for everyone.

The Prime Minister  emphasised the role of local leadership as part of ‘levelling up’ places. What local leaders need the most is predictable funding that best enables ourselves and city partners, like our local NHS, charities, and businesses, to come together around long-term plans. The UK is one of the most heavily centralised countries in Europe – that has been known for far longer than I have been Mayor, and even before Boris Johnson was one. For ‘levelling up’ to be truly effective, I would urge Government to release more funding to local places, then step back and help create the space for us to take the opportunities we know we can deliver.

Annual Address 2021

This is the transcript for my Annual Address speech I delivered at Full Council on Tuesday 6 July 2021.

As this is my first opportunity since being elected, I will start with some thanks:

  1. to the mayoral and councillor candidates who took on the challenge of running for office.
  2. to those of you who turned out to vote irrespective of who you voted for. Participation is essential to our democracy.
  3. and of course to those who campaigned and voted for me.

While my wife has been on TV admitting that she sometimes wishes I wasn’t the Mayor (a view a number of my Twitter trolls and probably one or two elected members hold all the time), it is nonetheless a profound honour to be re-elected on our record.

We laid out an ambitious agenda to the city in 2016. Bristol didn’t have a reputation for delivery and wanted a leadership that would get things done.

They voted for a bigger picture, for a vision of an inclusive, sustainable and fairer city committed to tackling the poverty and inequalities that undermined us. They voted for affordable homes, for jobs and for hope.

I don’t often quote Cllr Hopkins but he did once share with me – with all of us actually because it was in Full Council – that it’s easy to get elected, but the real test is to be re-elected. Having faced that test, we are confident the city wants us to continue to deliver ambition and compassion.

The election taught us all a lot:

  1. The city is changing – and certain areas are seeing dramatic changes in population and culture.
  2. We face the threat of growing divides – the old ones such as race, class, health, education, earnings. And new ones such as home ownership versus non-ownership, and those who have some trust in public institutions verses those who have none.
  3. We take our planetary responsibilities seriously.

The election also taught us that the conflicts and controversies, the shambles and scandals, worked up in this organisation and the way they are managed and driven through social media are often worlds away from the immediate challenges and complicated problems real people are facing in Bristol.

And we learned the people of Bristol are not interested in the weeds of the council. They want solutions to the problems they face every day, not abstract negativity, opposition for opposition’s sake. They want us to be a source of hope.

The people of Bristol don’t see the world in binary. Talking to so many people during the election:

  1. they appreciated the commitments on housing delivery but also understood the challenges that Brexit and Covid had presented in maintaining the levels of delivery.
  2. they appreciated the need to protect land for nature and tackle climate change but also the need to build homes for people a grow the economy for jobs.
  3. on Colston’s statue, many appreciated the need to tackle racism alongside a sense that the statue was important and symbolic. But they also appreciated the statue itself was not the solution to racism. Some held a fear that they were losing their history and some recognise the danger of ordinary people being manipulated by those who, for lack of any real political vision, revert to manipulating them in the culture wars.

There is are enough challenges and divisions in the world without us conjuring up new ones for whatever motivation.

People want us to be focussed on creating hope and delivery and a better city. They want us to be people who are able to wrestle with the complex challenges and contradictions that cities – in all their diversity – embody.

I will spend the next three years leading in three areas:

  1. Inclusion
  2. Sustainability
  3. Delivery

1. Inclusion means inclusive growth

It means jobs and homes in a diverse economy that offers pathways to employment for people at all skills and education levels.

Our challenge is to share a way of doing economic development that by its very nature redresses the historic and institutional drivers of inequality and social immobility. This rather than growing the economy and then tacking a couple of equalities initiatives on the back end.

2. Sustainability means delivering against the climate action plan and the ecological action plan

It means working as a council. But it also means working as a city doing all we can to decarbonise the energy, transport and food systems on which our cities depends. It means not dealing with any single issue in isolation but recognising the interdependence of poverty, class, racism and climate change.

On that front, I will share the insight of someone who recently gave a speech to a Multi-Faith meeting on the environment that was organised by Afzal Shah. He shared with a gathering of black, white and Asian Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and Jews how too often environmentalism had been a voice of divisive and accusational politics when what it should have been a cause for unity in the face of a global challenge.

We need to hear that challenge.

Sustainability means not shying away from the housing crisis and the difficult conversations about density and sustainable city centre locations.

It means bringing investment into green jobs and a transition to a low carbon economy.

3. Delivery means continuing to get stuff done

Delivery means lives change. Homes are built. Children are fed. Women and girls no longer in period poverty. Ground source and water source heat pumps and installed. Schools are built. City areas are pedestrianised. Jobs are generated. Homeless people are housed.

You can measure action by the number of cranes on the horizon. They are a clear example of the modernisation of the city, of continuing growth and opportunity.

Delivery means continuing to work as a city, not just a council. Working with partners and continuing to meet city challenges with all partners, cleaner air, a living wage city, mass transit, a living rent city, a city where diversity of thought leads modern 21st century city and continuing to put cities at the forefront of political, economic and social challenges – putting cities in front of challenges where governments fail.

We have the challenge of leading a city that is growing in size of population, need, diversity and inequality within the same geographical area of land. We do this while facing up to the environmental, economic, political, social and moral need to face up to tackle the climate and ecological crisis. And sometimes the things we must do to meet one area of these challenges can threaten to undermine our efforts to meet another.

Conclusion

So I finish with the same offer I have always made: if you have an genuine offer, a contribution to make to our efforts to meet those challenges, if you want to turn up with solutions, the door is open. Come make that offer, and then tell me what you need from the city to enable you to deliver it.

The time I have as mayor is loaned to me by the city. It’s my job to invest it not in fruitless distractions and false politics, but in the people and initiatives that will make a difference for the city, our country and world.

Working in partnership

Today’s guest blog is from Ellie Freeman, chair of Action Greater Bedminster.

Ellie Freeman, Action for Greater Bedminster

I’ve lived in BS3 with my family for 12 years, and I’m currently chair of Action Greater Bedminster (AGB). In recent years, AGB has got more involved in planning and consultations. Several new developments are happening across Bedminster and Southville, and slightly further afield at sites like Temple Quarter, and the community was feeling increasingly anxious about the impact these would have on the local area.  

When the council’s Community Development team approached me about working with the council in the early stages of a project to regenerate the area around Whitehouse Street, I was keen to build on our experiences and jumped at the chance to get involved so early in the process.  

The project area is just up the road from Bedminster Green, which is an area that continues to have a lot of interest from the community, with a general sense that their concerns have not been taken on board by the various developers involved. Our hope at Whitehouse Street was to bring the community in on the ground floor.  

Working closely with the council’s project team, particularly the Community Development team, we agreed the scope of the work and the local partners we’d work with – Windmill Hill City Farm, Fun 4 Families and The Sanctuary.  I know Lynn from Community Development well from previous work and was glad to have her on board.  

Working with the council in this way – where AGB has been commissioned and paid by the council – has been a new experience, but it has helped us to have an open relationship where we have regular meetings and work to a set of shared principles.  

Since we started in February, I’ve got to know the Whitehouse Street area well. The engagement process has been thorough. We’ve hand delivered letters, taken surveys door to door to the few houses in the area, and met local residents to hear their views about the early proposals. COVID-19 has made life more difficult, but we’ve managed a project website with an online survey and interactive map to hear from people, as well as hosting online meetings with individuals and stakeholder groups.  

It hasn’t always been easy to keep that distance from the council – I’ve spent more time with council officers over the last year than anyone else – but working directly with them has given me a seat at the table to challenge and question ideas as they are developed.  Being paid for my time has also helped, not least by officially recognising AGB’s role in amplifying the voice of the community.  

AGB is committed to helping Bedminster thrive and grow, and Whitehouse Street can be a key part of this. Being a part of the project from the outset has been a huge learning curve. It hasn’t always been perfect, but the community having the chance to feed into the process directly has been refreshing. I’m pleased the council has taken this approach and I hope they continue to do so in future.  

Rebuilding a better Bristol

No photo description available.
Area 51, Gloucester Road

Today is another big day for Bristol, as we continue to bring in more investment and create more jobs to solidify our city’s recovery from the pandemic. Thanks to two announcements in time for the longest day of the year, Bristol’s future is looking even brighter as we work to build a more sustainable and inclusive city.

Just last week, out and about on Gloucester Road visiting local traders, at the Area 51 comic book shop I heard once again how big events like comic book conventions, trade shows and major conferences have for too long skipped our city. Bristol has lost out to Cardiff and London because of the council’s historic failure to get stuff done.

We already know that Bristol’s 17,000+ seater YTL arena, set to be the greenest ever built in Europe, will start to set this right and bring the world’s biggest music stars to our city. For other events, like comic cons and even national party conferences, this weekend’s news is a real game changer for Bristol.

Photo of the Temple Island site by Legal & General

Legal & General have confirmed an incredible £350 million investment in our city’s future for Temple Island, where we put our city’s long-term economic interests ahead of short-term politics. This boost will see Bristol get a real conference centre alongside a new hotel, office space, and hundreds more affordable homes. Temple Quarter is already one of the UK’s largest regeneration schemes, with the renovation of Brunel’s station underway and, working with local communities, wider work beginning to create 10,000 new homes and 22,000 new jobs for Bristolians.

Image by Bristol Sport

Bristol Sport have also today submitted their planning application for a new 4,000-seater indoor stadium for the Bristol Flyers basketball team, adjacent to the existing stadium, which is home to the Bristol Bears and Bristol City. Revised plans, worth in the region of £200 million, include more community facilities, greater pedestrianisation, hundreds of new homes, while retaining green space and aiming for a biodiversity net gain.

This morning BBC Radio Bristol interviewed Mark Kelly, Managing Director at Ashton Gate, about their expansion plans, which follow on from the recent £45 million improvements to their current stadium. Mark was right to say that the city needs housing and that, without more conference facilities, which the Ashton Gate which also include, the city loses out. These plans and the Temple Island project are complementary developments, supported by the business community. This investment meets a need that’s been identified and talked about for some time, and will further strengthen Bristol’s role as the cultural, sporting, and economic centre of our region.

This next step forward in exciting plans for the redevelopment of a sports quarter at Ashton Gate will be another welcome boost for BS3. Like our £11.8 million expansion of Bottle Yard Studios, our award-winning £9 million Advanced Construction Skills Centre, and our world-class £8.4 million Youth Zone, this investment is crucial for South Bristol and the project has my full support.

Adult Learner Week

Today’s guest blog is from Matt Gillett, Regional Education Officer at UNITE South West.

Matt Gillett

Unions have always played a key role in the learning agenda. From the education of our Union Representatives through to negotiating with employers to provide access to training for millions of employees through workplace learning agreements. Union education programmes have ensured that our Reps gain the knowledge and skills to effectively represent their members and operate effectively with employers to ensure positive industrial relations outcomes. Through these courses, for example, Health and Safety Reps acquire the expertise essential to their roles in helping in the prevention of accidents and incidents, instigating good practices and keeping workers safe in their jobs with fewer accidents and less sick absence. 

Trade unions have also been at the forefront of promoting lifelong learning. Engaging with companies and education providers we have established learning agreements giving workers the opportunity to access courses such as English, maths, digital skills, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and vocational qualifications, including adult apprenticeships. Many of these workers have been out of formal education for a long periods, and indeed may not have had the most positive experiences when they were at school. Through the provision of on-site learning centres and by working with companies to make sure courses take place at times that minimise their operational disruption we have been able to open up opportunities to countless individuals. Numerous employers across the city, including Bristol City Council itself, have been examples of the success of unions and businesses working together to the mutual benefit of the workforce and the employers themselves. Union Learning Reps who promote training and encourage their colleagues to take part are pivotal to the reach and success of these projects.

We remain heavily involved in the area of redundancy support, ensuring that those at risk of losing their jobs receive training in CV writing, interview techniques and job searching skills, as well as accessing those key qualifications listed above, to give them the best chance of securing new positions.  

Photo credit: Chris Montgomery – “Zoom call with coffee”

During the pandemic of course, classroom delivery of both Reps education and lifelong learning had to cease. However, thanks to the hard work and adaptability of tutors and providers, we were able to quickly move to online and ‘virtual classroom’ learning through Zoom and similar platforms. Many individuals have accessed online learning during the last 15 months and my own union Unite has long had an extensive online offer which has even more come into it’s own during this period. Meanwhile, activists have been able to continue to work with tutors and each other to share knowledge, experience and solidarity through our Reps education programmes. I want to pay tribute to the flexibility of those who have taken part in all these aspects of learning and training over the last year or so. 

Adult Learner Week reminds us that as the economy reshapes the need to have access to learning, upskilling and retraining has never been greater. Trade unions will continue to play a vital part in making this possible.

Our night time economy

After yesterday’s announcement from national government that any further easing of restrictions will be delayed by at least four weeks, Carly Heath, Bristol’s Night Time Economy Advisor, has written to Paul Scully MP, Minister for Small Business.

Dear Minister,

Re: Additional support for the Night Time Economy (NTE)

I am writing in light of yesterday’s announcement confirming a delay to easing of Coronavirus restrictions and following conversations with trade bodies, businesses and workers within the NTE.

Our vibrant nightlife is at the beating heart of what it means to be a Bristolian. The city doesn’t stop at 6pm. The night is where we come together as a community, it’s where the soul of our city gets to flourish.

I appreciate that the Delta variant of the virus has presented fresh challenges for the government and that public health must remain a priority. We will support measures taken to keep the situation under control, however, extending restrictions without the necessary support risks jeopardising the livelihoods, relationships and mental health of those working in the NTE.

Current business support has kept many businesses afloat in the past year and it must be continued until restrictions are lifted.

Venue owners and events organisers have been planning towards the 21st June. In order to be ready for potential reopening, they have bought in stock and hired staff. These are, in many cases, costs that cannot be recouped.

Many skilled workers have left the sector in the past 16 months and businesses are now facing huge staff shortages as a result. Staff have been hired and trained in anticipation for re-opening, and there are questions marks over whether these staff will be eligible for furlough. This means many new employees will be let go and businesses will have to go through the process all over again, or face the prospect of paying to keep staff on their books for the anticipated four weeks, with no certainty that the restrictions will be relaxed then either.

UK Hospitality estimate that 300,000 jobs are at risk in light of yesterday’s announcement and that a one-month delay to restrictions lifting will cost the sector around £3 billion in sales. A survey of 300 NTE businesses by the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) suggests 1 in 4 businesses will not survive longer than one month without further Government support, and 50% will last no longer than two months.

In Bristol, we have 1,127 NTE premises. 39 music venues & nightclubs, 784 hospitality venues, 5 theatres, 52 hotels and 13 breweries. Nearly all venues have reopening events scheduled. Many have been sold out for months. A number of major events and festivals are now facing cancellation or further postponement, threatening the viability of those businesses and the supply chains they rely on.

At least 32,000 jobs in the city are reliant on night-time cultural and leisure activities. The wider NTE constitutes 91,620 employees, or 30% of Bristol jobs.

In coming weeks, businesses are facing quarterly rent payments, the end on the ban on commercial rent evictions and further contributions to furlough costs – but these same businesses cannot bring in revenue if they are unable to trade or profit.  

To protect workers, businesses and the entire NTE ecosystem, we therefore ask that the government:

  • Extends the current business support package, including:
    • Extension of VAT reduction
    • Extension of the rent moratorium
    • Extension of rates relief
  • Implements a sector-specific furlough scheme for this sector, to provide flexibility that will prevent the mass firing of newly employed staff.
  • Provides the sector with certainty that should restrictions be extended, support will be extended to match.
  • Implements a government backed insurance scheme for events and festivals to enable them to plan with confidence.
  • Ensures there is adequate mental health and debt support services for those working in the sector – as a local authority, we will be using our communication channels to get information out on available support. People are in desperate situations.

We understand the rationale for delaying re-opening, but the impact of doing so without government support is cutting the lifeblood to our social heartbeat. The unthinkable consequences as a result of the government’s decision to delay the roadmap threatens a very real damage to our communities and our cultural life.

I look forward to your response on this matter. There is only so much longer that the sector can survive.

Yours sincerely,

Carly Heath

Night Time Economy Advisor

City Office, Bristol City Council

Carers Week 2021: Visible and Valued

Today’s guest blog, in recognition of Carers Week, comes from Councillor Helen Holland, Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care and Labour Councillor for Hartcliffe and Withywood.

Last year, with applause and cheers (and on some streets even fireworks!) on Thursday evenings, Bristol celebrated the value of care like never before. And yet within that crucial national recognition of the importance of care, thousands of people who carry out invaluable care work were perhaps still too hidden from our collective view. Specifically, those who look after family members or friends – unpaid – every day in our city.

The theme of this year’s Carers Week is “Make Caring Visible and Valued” – a challenge to us all to acknowledge and support the contribution unpaid carers make not only to their families, but to the whole of Bristol.

Few people will be aware of the sheer scale of carers’ contribution. The census in 2011 revealed that there are at least 40,138 unpaid carers in Bristol – and it is likely that this year’s census will show that this number has grown.

We know that Covid has had a significant impact both on the numbers of people who undertake caring responsibilities and in the amount of care they have provided for their loved ones and neighbours. The country has been heavily reliant on carers’ efforts: Carers UK estimate that unpaid carers’ work has saved the country over £135 billion during the pandemic.

This effort has, for too many, come at significant personal time and cost. Carers across the UK now provide a staggering 65 hours per week of care, and 64% have said their mental health has worsened during the pandemic. 58% have seen an impact too on their physical health.

We know, therefore, that clapping for our carers is not enough. We need to make sure Bristol’s unpaid carers are visible and valued for everything that they do.

In our One City Plan, we have the goal of identifying, assessing, supporting and valuing all unpaid carers in Bristol by 2022, and recognising and respecting them as expert partners in care who contribute their skills, experience and dedication to our city’s care sector. We know many people who undertake care for relatives want to have the opportunity to use those skills by becoming professional care workers. Our Proud to Care website has advice and local job opportunities for anyone wanting to develop a career in care in Bristol. You can also read stories from people like Lindsey, who works as a Support Outreach Worker for Headway Bristol, having cared for her own partner who has a brain injury.

We also want to continue to offer a diverse network of support services for carers that reaches people in all communities. This includes working with organisations such as Bristol Young Carers, Bristol Black Carers, Bristol and Avon Chinese Women’s Group and the Dhek Bhal support group for carers of South Asian Elders to support those undertaking care responsibilities who may face particular barriers in having their status as carers recognised and supported.

Independent and trusted advice is also crucial in order that those in need of care and their families can make informed decisions about how their care needs can be best met. In the coming months we will begin the recommissioning process for our advocacy services to make sure that carers have access to the right support at the right time.

I want Bristol to be a city that supports and values everyone who cares for a loved one. If you are currently providing care for a parent, relative or friend, information about the support available to you is available on our website.

Our most decisive decade

Covid-19. Economic downturn. Brexit uncertainties. Demographic change and social unrest. Climate and ecological emergencies. Technological change.

The 2020s have already posed unprecedented challenges to Bristol, Britain, and beyond. Every single system that we depend on has been tested to its limit during the last year, with keyworkers and volunteers alike up against it to support and deliver for our communities.

The Resolution Foundation, Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics, and the Nuffield Foundation yesterday launched The Economy 2030 Inquiry. It is welcome that Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC, joins academic experts and business leaders as a commissioner. Just as Bristol’s world-leading approach to implementing the Sustainable Development Goals and our One City Plan looks to tackle concurrent challenges at once, rather than in isolation, this Inquiry seeks to develop a comprehensive framework up to 2030.

Their initial report makes for powerful reading about the scale of challenge and opportunity we are facing, as we work to level up, not down. This new research suggests that halving the productivity gap between the UK and our European neighbours, like Germany and France, would boost household incomes by £2,500 per year.

Looking to the future, we must work to guarantee that equity, inclusivity, and sustainability underpin economic change as we move towards 2030. The decade to 2019 saw the weakest productivity growth in more than a century, with non-standard, and increasingly insecure, employment representing two-thirds of new jobs created between 2008 and 2015.

The report is also right to highlight that Westminster has cut the spending power of local councils since 2010, with the added pressure of national inaction on social care, new powers are still needed for local leaders to drive economic growth, curb rising rents, and train and re-skill workers. Further devolution, including to Bristol and the wider region, could go some way towards addressing the unusual variation in productivity across the country. The Productivity Institute is exploring how a less centralised United Kingdom could become a more productive and prosperous one, and their work can sit alongside that of The Economy 2030 Inquiry.

The end of this decade is already Bristol’s target for carbon neutrality, and a just transition as we decarbonise the city’s economy is essential. So too, working to deliver jobs and opportunities in the face of immense challenges, we need to ensure that our recovery is one that leaves nobody behind.

We have already given a pay rise to 1,900 low-paid Bristolians, through our work with unions and employers to deliver the real Living Wage. Our commitments, including the Ethical Care Charter and Construction Charter, give additional protections to workers. More widely, our One City Economic Recovery and Renewal Strategy brings together organisations from across Bristol to support sectors and communities hit hard by the pandemic, beginning to build a values-led recovery for our city.

With productivity and living standards falling while wages stagnate and inequalities rise, building back after the downturn cannot just paper over cracks that risk becoming chasms – both within our own city and society, and between the UK and other developed and rapidly developing economies. The Economy 2030 will help us identify more solutions to these big challenges of our time.

Confronting a cliff-edge in support for the Night Time Economy

Today’s blog comes from Carly Heath, our recently appointed Night Time Economy Advisor.

Our city doesn’t stop at 6pm, it comes alive. The night is where communities get together and we connect with each other outside of work. Culture has a unique power to engage and connect people of all backgrounds and abilities, presenting a rare opportunity to improve diversity and equality. This has a real-life impact on career opportunities and the cultural development of a city. The night belongs to everyone, and it’s our duty to protect it. 

The Night Time Economy (NTE) is loosely defined as businesses which operate between 6pm and 6am. It is most widely known as encompassing hospitality such as pubs, bars, restaurants, and cultural spaces, such as live music venues, nightclubs and comedy clubs. Whereas these primary businesses only trade between 6pm-6am, secondary businesses trade in the daytime but predominantly make their money at night – this may include restaurants, theatres, and cinemas. However the NTE also extends to the broad spectrum of businesses operating in auxiliary to these primary and secondary businesses, such as taxis, hotels, and the supply chain, and can be expanded to include shift workers, such as those working in health and care. 

As Bristol’s new NTE advisor, my role is to represent the needs of all these groups and businesses, some of whom have begun to reopen with the further easing of restrictions from today, others remaining shut for another month at least. It’s a mammoth undertaking but I feel honoured to have the opportunity to support an industry in which I’ve spent my whole career and to advocate for Bristol’s beautifully rich after-dark culture. I have plenty of ideas for what I want to focus on in the year ahead, but forefront of my mind is supporting businesses to recover from Covid.

Although some in the NTE have found themselves overlooked when it comes to government support over the past 14 months, the sector is crucial to our country’s economy. In 2019 the UK NTE contributed £66 billion per year to the UK economy, made up 8% of the UK’s total workforce and accounted for 1.3 million jobs. 

Since the pandemic hit in March last year, we have seen significant closures across the sector. With no meaningful opportunity to trade, many businesses in commercial properties have been unable to pay rental arrears, through no fault of their own.  

The government put in a moratorium on evictions in March 2020, but this is due to expire on June 30th. The sector is facing a cliff edge should commercial landlords request full repayment of these rental debts.  

Research recently conducted by the Night Time Industries Association showed the scale of the problem across the UK: 

  • 75% of commercial tenants will be forced to look at insolvency or restructuring if further support is not provided post the rent moratorium
  • 80% of commercial tenants are still facing unproductive discussions with their landlords
  • 72% of impacted businesses are more than six months behind on payments, including over half of nightclubs, and 32% of live music venues now 9 months in arrears

In the coming weeks, my focus will be on gathering data on the situation in Bristol and working with the council and our local MPs to influence for improved support as restrictions ease and businesses begin to open their doors again. The impact of so many businesses facing financial crisis cannot be underestimated when you consider that in Bristol alone, some 91,000 people are directly or indirectly employed by the NTE – that’s 34% of the city’s workers.  

Beyond influencing, my aims include taking practical steps to support the safe reopening of night time businesses, improving the quality of the data we have on how our city works at night and seeking ways to improve training and skills opportunities for the sector. I’m only a few weeks in and the scale of the challenge is huge, but the fact that we have this role at all is a positive step towards the NTE being properly recognised and supported for its contribution in our city.

If you’d like to get in touch about the work I’m doing, you can reach me on NTEadvisor@bristol.gov.uk.