Prioritising Affordable Childcare

Today, the Family and Childcare Trust published its annual survey looking at the cost of childcare – as with previous years, it has found that childcare costs have risen, by three percent in the last year alone, with parents paying an average of more than £6,600 per year for a part time nursery place. Following the roll out of new Government support schemes in the last few years, most parents are now entitled to some help with childcare costs but there are concerns that the different types of support can create a confusing picture, risking the situation where some parents are missing out on the help they need.

Of particular note is that fact it would be families with lower incomes and younger children who are the ones most likely to be squeezed by any increase in childcare prices – the survey finds some parents are still worse off in work once they have paid for childcare, especially larger families or families with young children.

I am pleased that, in Bristol, we have managed to keep all of our Children’s Centres open by coupling them with nurseries in the majority of cases, and by creating a funding environment that means we have not needed to close them.  The city has a high number of nurseries, which are a key part of our early years services. But along with other authorities, we are still awaiting confirmation from the Department for Education about a sustainable nursery school funding model that will be so critical in the future.

The importance of childcare provision has also been reflected citywide through the commitments put forward through our One City Plan. At our most recent City Gathering, providing affordable childcare was identified as one of the three key ambitions to take forward  as a city this year, alongside tackling gang violence and eradicating period poverty. This demonstrates our collective commitment to delivering affordable childcare.

We recognise that childcare costs are one of the key barriers to economic inclusion. This is why ensuring families have access to affordable childcare also lies at the heart of my inclusive and sustainable economic growth strategy. One of the first priorities for action is to pilot an affordable childcare and nursery education programme, enabling low income families and lone parents the opportunity to work. The Bristol Women’s Commission is also carrying out meaningful work around this aim, with their Women of Lawrence Hill Project. Once again, the Family and Childcare Trust’s annual survey shows that government support for childcare simply isn’t enough for most families. As a city, we are finding collaborative, place based solutions to national government’s shortcomings.

Budget Speech 2019

Below is my speech to the budget Full Council meeting, given on the 26th February 2019. 

THIS BUDGET IS ABOUT:

  • Safeguarding our services
  • Ensuring we retain Bristol control of the authority and its services rather than being subject to takeover by Government directed Whitehall bureaucrats
  • Developing the council’s role as a catalyst for city action
  • And strengthening the city’s reputation as a place attractive to the public and private sector investment we need

All this through bringing financial competence to the authority and by extension to the city.

 

THE CHALLENGE

The challenge that covers everything we do in city government remains government imposed austerity. We are now nine years into the era of austerity which was launched by the Conservative and Lib-Dem government of 2010.

When the Prime Minister claimed austerity was over, it was a recognition that the country has had enough. That the nation wanted something other than the decimation of the public sector, the further impoverishment of the poorest and most vulnerable, and the failure to invest in our country’s future. We haven’t seen any evidence to back up this claim.

And local government has suffered the biggest austerity cuts of the public sector. The Local Government Association calculate the funding gap will be £7.1bn by 2020, including £1.3bn needed to stabilise the care system. Council spending was 22% lower in 2018 than in 2010.

Let me just outline what this means: Our funding is decreased year on year by government cuts. Meanwhile, demand for children’s services and adult social care has continued to rise – for every £1 of council tax collected in 19/20 across the UK, as much as 56p could be spent on caring for the elderly, vulnerable adults and children.  This figure is even higher in Bristol.

In Bristol this has meant £120m in savings.

We continue to grapple with a growing need with diminishing resources. This is in the face of a growing population, tackling the consequences of our outdated infrastructure offer, the need to build houses and the growing demand on public services being driven by failures of national government policy – particularly in the area of welfare reform. And we anticipate this will only worsen through the Brexit debacle.

 

WHAT WE HAVE ACHIEVED

It is testament to the work of this administration and particularly to Craig Cheney, ably supported by Finance Director Denise Murray and the finance team that we are presenting a budget with no new cuts.  As I have said before, Craig does the boring very well and as a result of us bringing financial discipline to the council, we are now able to bring Labour values to the leadership of the city and deliver on our promises.

In 2018 opposition parties sought political popularity through voting blindly for a spend of up to £200 million with no awareness of the risk or evidence of impact. So I think it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on exactly who Bristol citizens can trust with their money.

It’s this Labour administration that has:

  • Protected our Children centres – to give every child in Bristol the best possible start in life and started a city wide movement to protect the rights of children in the city through the Children’s Charter and the Adverse Childhood Early Experiences strategy.
  • Brought the Better Lives programme to adult social care, empowering people to stay in their own homes and lead fulfilling lives for longer. And we’ve introduced the ethical care charter.
  • We have kept all libraries open and are invigorating their future with community partnerships. This is an astonishing achievement when you hear that 130 public libraries closed in the UK in 2018.
  • We are hitting our housing targets and accelerating delivery. This means we are tackling the housing crisis, including launching our own housing company and bringing through new methods of delivery including modular off site manufacture.
  • We made the council a Living Wage employer and are pioneering efforts to become a Living Wage city. We signed and are rolling out the construction charter, became a Time to Change and Dying to Work employer.  All of these achievements are underpinned by our financial stability.
  • In the budget meeting this time last year we secured the future of the £40 million Council Tax Reduction Scheme, providing tax relief to our poorest citizens, including those hit by the appalling introduction of Universal Credit. We are of course the only Core City to be able to offer this scheme today and one of only a handful of councils anywhere in the UK.   Many try to take the credit for this achievement but only the Labour group actually voted for it when it mattered and only this administration delivered it.
  • And we have rallied the city to the One City Plan with city-wide priorities for 2019:
    • Providing affordable childcare
    • Tackling street and youth violence
    • Ending period poverty

The One City Plan, along with the City Fund, is a testament to the credibility and inclusive nature of our leadership.

This Labour administration and the Labour group has really delivered on our promises. We have proved that we will base our decision on evidence in pursuit of the long term interests of the city rather than Facebook likes or twitter retweets. And one truth is more evident than all the others – amongst the political parties in Bristol, the people of Bristol can only trust this Labour administration with their money.

 

GOVERNMENT TREATMENT 

At the recent Labour LGA conference, Labour leaders from across the country asked Shadow Secretary of State, Andrew Gwynne to ensure the next labour government were as focussed on advantaging Labour led authorities as the conservatives have been in disadvantaging them.

The Government’s cuts to councils have seen Labour areas lose on average more than £500 per household since 2010, while in Conservative led areas, spending per household has fallen by just an average of £115.  That’s less than a third of the impact of austerity…  the is the definition of party before people.

Some Conservative areas like Surrey have even been given sweetheart deals by the Treasury while the Government has removed the weighting for deprivation from the settlement, making it so much harder for cities like Bristol.

Labour group leader Marg Hickman has written, setting out our opposition in the strongest terms.   We are still waiting for other parties to step up for Bristol and do the same.

As the LGA Labour Group’s “100 More Innovations by Labour in Power” shows, we are delivering for our communities. It highlights how local Bristol Labour councillors and I have fought against austerity, convening the first ever joint meeting between the Core Cities and Metro Mayors, and rallying Bristol and lobbying Parliament for fair funding.

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

From the 2016 Bundred report to the 2018 Local Government Association corporate peer review, it has been clear to those with expertise who came at the question with objectivity that we have turned this council around and put it on a journey toward success, based on the simple fact that we have got a grip.

And while I have lost hope in the existence of a Bristol political culture in which our opponents would acknowledge the scale of the achievement, it remains the fact that inheriting the £30 million of failed savings along with £120 million of government cuts, makes today’s no cuts budget an incredible achievement.

With strong financial management and prudent use of reserves, we have genuinely brought Municipal Socialism to Bristol.

 

MESSAGE TO OUR OPPONENTS 

Of course, I will ask you all to support the budget tonight and to even look closely at some of the amendments. And I will appeal to our political opponents:

To my Conservative colleagues I say:

Please reach out to your Government. Lobby for fair funding for Bristol. To get us the finance we need. This year’s Comprehensive Spending Review key for local authorities – let’s come together in one voice about it.

There are party differences at the local level but, surely at some point we can come together and put advocating for the city ahead of protecting the reputation of the national party.

Argue the case for certainty around Brexit – not just what options the country faces but also how the Shared Prosperity Fund will work and should work: locally devolved and fully flexible.

To the Liberal Democrats I say:

Spend more time thinking how to get delivery rather than searching through the weeds of the council for minor weaknesses in big plans.

And to the Green Group I say:

It’s how you vote when it matters that counts, not what you post on social media.

Please focus more on making a genuine contribution and less on trying to claim credit for things.

Your hyped proposal to introduce a congestion charge is mistaken and seriously flawed.  It will worsen poverty. And just in case you think you can only charge out-of-town residents, you cannot; I’m afraid it’s illegal. It’s not good enough for your second shot at a major policy.

And to the city I say:

We have done substantial modelling of clean air zones and will table our initial plans to improve air quality in the city in March, based on evidence. The evidence clearly shows a charging zone for individual cars will adversely and disproportionately impact on the most deprived communities. Air quality is a population health issue, that goes without saying. But so is poverty and we must take poverty seriously.  As evidenced by in the British Academy’s 2014 report “If You Could Do One Thing”, 40% of health outcomes are determined by socio-economic factors which is the single biggest impact.

We must make our air cleaner without worsening poverty, which in itself is the most serious health risk.

We will take a leading role in tackling climate change. We are doing this at a global level through my co-chairing the Global Parliament of Mayors and membership of the Mayor’s Migration Council.

But that role must bring the city with us, not just point the finger. As University of Bristol Emeritus Director of the Cabot Institute and 30 year expert on the environment, Richard Pancost said in my guest blog this month:

‘in our fear of catastrophic climate change and in our urgency to declare a climate emergency, we are failing to build an inclusive movement’ 

 As was demonstrated by 500 Bristol students last week,

‘climate change will affect children more than their parents, the young more than the old but will also impact on the poor, the vulnerable and the isolated the worst.  Volatility of food production will impact most on those who already struggle to feed their family’.  

And as Richard goes on to say,

‘if climate action is a question of social justice, then those marginalised groups must be part of the movement.  They must set the agenda of that movement.  They must lead the movement.  And if they are not, those of us who claim the title ‘environmentalist’ cannot ask why they are not engaged, and instead must ask how we have failed’.     

A movement that leaves whole communities behind will fail and the kick back against it could set it back decades.   Please think through the kind of politics we make more possible when we entrench inequality and further deprive people of economic hope and opportunity. You can see it in the current crop of populist leaders – climate change denying, one dimensional, reactionary, opportunistic politics.

This is not – as some have simplistically argued in 240 character tweets – trading off money and jobs against the environment. Its city leadership working in a complicated and challenging world to deliver on all fronts.

A congestion charge is an example of people seeing the challenge of climate change through a prism of privilege.

This Labour administration will deliver carbon neutrality and clean air and tackle climate change in Bristol and we will do so alongside social justice and equality, with inclusive and sustainable growth.

 

THE FUTURE OF DELIVERY

And alongside that fundamental challenge, we will continue to deliver with financial projects that benefit the city:

TRANSPORT

A Bus deal, with public and private sector investment, underpinned by Bus prioritisation that will double journeys to work made by bus.

More than £17.5 million for sustainable transport projects, including the Cycle Ambition Fund, Go Ultra Low and bus shelter replacement.

We will continue toward the delivery of the Mass Transit system

GREEN SPACES

£2 million to improve our Parks and Green spaces.

WASTE

£4 million to build the third Household Waste Recycling and Reuse Centre at Hartcliffe Way. Several recent administrations failed to deliver it, and we are.

ENERGY

Major investment towards the £1 billion City Leap programme, changing the way we generate, store, distribute and use energy.

EDUCATION

Investment of almost £68 million for new schools and buildings, more school places, and improving existing facilities – on top of almost £15 million for educational improvement.

CULTURE

£60 million for redevelopment and improvement works at the Colston Hall, Old Vic, St George’s, and Bottle-yard Studios.

SPORTS

We are investing in sports centres, tennis courts, bigger sports halls and swimming pools.

REGENERATION OF OUR CITY

£43 million towards the regeneration of Temple Meads, Engine Shed 2, Temple Square, Station Approach, Temple Quarter, and the Redcliffe Corridor.

£990,000 Port Resilience Fund for regeneration projects in Avonmouth & Lawrence Weston, and £200,000 to develop new office space at Filwood Green Business Park.

HOMES

Almost £85 million for the Housing Delivery Programme, to accelerate new home building – particularly new affordable homes – plus a further £61 million for Goram Homes, Bristol City Council’s new housing company.

And underpinning all these successes are this budget and our mid-term financial plan and our financial competence.

For these reasons I have no hesitation in commending this budget to you.

 

Building Homes Fit For Heroes

Today’s guest blog comes from Cllr Paul Smith, cabinet lead for housing.

paul smith

Council housing has shaped Bristol, literally. After two World Wars, the city expanded to house a growing population relocating from the slums. The last expansion of the city boundary was to bring in the new estates being built in Hartcliffe and Withywood in Bristol.

Bristol’s first council housing was built in 1905 in St Werburghs, however at that time Bristol Corporation was a reluctant developer of homes. It took a World War and national government instruction to force its hand. In May 1918 the council bought private land in Hillfields, Sea Mills, Knowle and Horfield to build whole estates for when the war ended.

In 1919 the Housing, Town Planning Act was enacted, which set the financial systems in place (and the compulsion) for councils to build homes at scale. Promoted by the Secretary of State for Health Dr Addison it later became known as the Addison Act. It is this law which we are celebrating this year. The council housing then was built at the highest standards, in both quality of build and size. It was also more expensive to rent than the Victorian slums it was to replace so it housed the wealthier working class families.

Over the following decades, council housing was a battleground for the differing ideologies of Conservative and Labour governments. The big issues were quality versus numbers and, housing for everyone versus a priority for the poorest and most vulnerable. In the 1980s, the right to buy option changed the face of council housing in Bristol again. Prior to the 1980 Housing Act which brought in the discounts, Bristolians could buy their council house, for the full market value and with a council guarantee of a replacement. However since the right to buy policy we have seen the number of council owned homes fall by over 20,000. From a third of all Bristol homes at its peak, council housing now makes up only 13.5%. An increasing proportion of those homes sold are now private rented homes with rents 2 or 3 times the level of council rent.

This anniversary is particularly fitting as Bristol has started to build council housing at scale again. Reflecting the earlier ambition, the stock built is hoped to be among the best housing in the city. In this year we will also be consulting on how council housing is allocated to look at whether we can both eradicate homelessness and be able to offer social housing to a broader range of people on low incomes.

What shape will this celebration take? On 4th June 1919, Dr Addison helped plant a tree in Sea Mills, so 100 years later we will be inviting the community to celebrate the birthday of that magnificent Addison oak tree. Then later the same day we will plant a new sapling on our new council estate in Ashton in south Bristol. There will be three new books: a history of council housing in the city, guided walks around some of our estates and one of essays written by people who have grown up in council housing, sharing what it meant to them. The Festival of the Future City programme in October will have a day focussed on issues around the history and future of council housing. The Architecture Centre’s very popular annual event Doors Open Day will also highlight council housing. On three of the estates Hillfields, Sea Mills and Knowle local history projects are already starting. Libraries are also being supported to produce local displays and Bristol Archives is are currently being trawled for relevant information and documents.

This centenary is a great opportunity to discuss what sort of city we want and to increase our understanding of how the housing crisis developed. We are very grateful to Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council England in their support for this important celebration. You can follow the latest developments using the hashtag #HomesForHeroes100 on social media and the Festival of Ideas Facebook page.

Diversity is one of Bristol’s Greatest Strengths

Today’s guest blog comes from Councillor Sultan Khan (Labour – Eastville), who organised the 67th International Mother Tongue Day in Bristol on 21 February.

International Mother Language Day commemorates the anniversary of Bengali/Bangla being restored as the official language of Bangladesh, after years of protests over Urdu being imposed by the then-Government in Islamabad. Later, in 1971, Bangladesh became independent from Pakistan.

After Bengali was reintroduced, the United Nations’ Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) stepped up efforts to recognise the world’s cultural diversity. Then, in 2008, the UN General Assembly recognised Bangladesh’s Mother Language Day as an international day of commemoration to celebrate the languages of all peoples.

This of course includes all of the nearly 100 languages used by our communities all across Bristol, including sign language. This diversity so enrichens Bristol’s social fabric, and is one of our city’s greatest strengths.

Learning languages is important for people of all ages, improving our skills in an increasingly international economy but also to preserve and protect languages as a vital part of maintaining our history and culture.

It was therefore a pleasure to be joined by so many Bristolians, including city councillors, the Deputy Lord Mayor, the High Sheriff, the Deputy Lord-Lieutenant, and lecturers in linguistics for this year’s commemoration. I am proud to have helped raise the flag of Bangladesh outside of City Hall this lunchtime, and to have been joined by colleagues from the Bangladesh Association – Bristol, Bath, and West at a reception around the corner.

Modor gorob moder aasha. A’mori bangla bhasha!

Engaging with the future of your local library

In Parliament today, the House of Lords discussed the impact of the closure of local libraries in England. Over the last year alone, nearly 130 static and mobile libraries have closed, bringing the total number of closures to an estimated 800 since the coalition government 2010.  Here in Bristol, we understand how much people care about their libraries and took this into consideration last July, when my Cabinet and I decided to keep all 27 libraries open, pledging to work with community groups to explore sustainable options for the future.

“Libraries change lives for the better, including in tackling social isolation” it was noted today, as peers referenced the findings of a recent libraries taskforce, and this is certainly something I would agree with.

With the council’s footprint reducing and with many libraries needing investment, it’s particularly important therefore that we adapt to ensure we have a sustainable library service that people across the city can enjoy. Our library team is currently working alongside residents and organisations to come up with solutions for extending the service and the use of the buildings, while also looking at the wider needs of the local community.

Last month on this blog, my Deputy Mayor with responsibility for Communities, Asher Craig, highlighted a series of community events being held to bring together local people to consider opportunities for the future of their local library. We want to use this period to explore how we can work with communities to make these spaces more appealing and tailor them to fit the needs of the local area – there is certainly no one-size fits all approach.

Through discussions held so far, our team have received a wide range of new ideas and suggestions for collaboration, whilst our upcoming library strategy will build on this work by presenting a vision for the future of services in the city, plans on how to make each one financially sustainable and the best location for them to be placed.

There’s no denying that public libraries can be beacons for knowledge and for communities across the city, particularly because they are trusted places that welcome everyone. Their services will play an important role in supporting future generations, something reflected in our One City Plan that looks to see Bristol become a ‘Reading City’ by 2020, building on international projects that encourage reading to and with children from early in life.

We have the opportunity for us and local communities to pilot new approaches and explore new partnerships as we work together to find the best possible options for the future and I hope you’ll get involved in this conversation. To find out more about the community events or take part in the survey, please visit: www.bristol.gov.uk/libraryideas.

National praise for our local council

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

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

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

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

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

Making Bristol an ACE Aware City


Today’s guest blog comes from Cllr Helen Godwin, my Cabinet Lead for Women, Children and Families.

Addressing the ACEs Bristol Conference on 17 January

I wanted to take this opportunity to write about an important journey we are embarking on as a city, which I see as being key to our administration’s aim of ensuring that Bristol is a city in which nobody is left behind. Last month, we held the first ever Bristol Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Conference at We the Curious, alongside our partners at the NHS Clinical Commissioning Group and Avon and Somerset Constabulary. Over 450 delegates attended the conference from across the public, private and third sectors. ACEs are negative experiences in early life and childhood that can have an impact on health and well-being throughout life. There is no universally agreed definition of an adverse childhood experience, but studies addressing the issue have mostly converged on a similar set of experiences:

  • direct harms: physical, emotional or verbal abuse and physical or emotional neglect
  • indirect harms (‘household challenges’): domestic violence, parental drug/alcohol misuse, parental criminal behaviour/ incarceration, parental mental illness and bereavement (linked to death or separation).

The draft ACEs vision statement circulated at the conference

Research has shown that stressful experiences during childhood have a significant impact on a person’s life chances, both in terms of physical and mental health, as well as social outcomes. In short, paying attention to people’s ACEs is about asking “what has happened?” rather than “what is wrong?”.

The conference was an important opportunity to collectively set out the first steps we are taking as a city to achieve the following goals set out in the One City Plan: By 2050, everyone in Bristol will have the opportunity to live a life in which they are mentally and physically healthy. Children will grow up free of adverse childhood experiences, having had the best start in life and support through the life course. These are clearly ambitious goals, but I believe that we can achieve them by bringing our collective expertise together as a city.

ACEs are not inevitable, and nor is it inevitable that the people who experience multiple ACEs will not go on to do well in life with the right support. This is why our citywide commitment to tackling the cycle of ACEs across generations focuses not just on prevention, but on how we can help enable those who have experienced them to flourish, and to prevent them from happening to their own children. Some of our partners are already paving the way in their adoption of ACE aware approaches, including Family Nurse Partnership, which works with young parents to improve the future health and well-being of their children, as well as support parents in planning for their future.


The Mayor addressing the conference

In Bristol, being ACE aware is not about a set of new interventions or the use of checklists to guide the support offered to specific people. Rather, it is a commitment to developing a holistic ACE approach across the city, with a focus on recognition, prevention and early intervention and the cultural change that may be needed to support that. It is also about ensuring that communities are empowered to solve problems and find long term solutions through their understanding of the impact of ACEs. The evidence shows us that preventing ACEs can reduce health harming behaviours, as well as reducing, for example, unplanned teenage pregnancies, binge drinking, violence perpetration and incarceration. As well as increasing people’s health and wellbeing, there are economic benefits to an ACE informed approach through increased employment levels and reduction in the involvement of the health, social care and criminal justice systems. We have a long way to go, but I believe that, in the spirit of the One City Approach, by working together we can break the cycle of ACEs and ensure that everyone in the city has the opportunity to flourish in life.

Social and environmental justice

Today’s guest blog comes from Professor Rich Pancost, Head of School for Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol.

This is Bristol: Numerous green businesses and voluntary organisations, a multitude of cyclists, recyclers and circular economists; ethical banking and a local currency; a Council-owned windfarm, Energy Company and low-carbon investment strategy; local food production, community energy, sustainable housing developments.  The 2015 EU Green Capital and the owner of the most rapid and extensive decarbonisation ambition of any city or nation in the world.

This is also Bristol: Congestion, polluted air and a polluted harbour, heat-inefficient Victorian homes, fuel poverty and food deserts. Economic inequality magnified by environmental inequality. 

Bristol has been a leader in the environmental movement for decades, and it has been a leader in tackling climate change. I’ve been studying climate change for 30 years but am still in awe of the Bristol spirit.  And since arriving in Bristol, I’ve tried to help my small bit: I was with George Ferguson in Paris when he pledged carbon neutrality by 2050; I also collaborated on the Council’s Resilience Strategy and, more recently, Marvin Rees’ One City Approach, and especially its environmental theme.

Consequently, I was enthused to see Bristol pass a motion of intent, declaring a Climate Emergency and a desire to become carbon neutral. Carbon neutral across all sectors. By 2030. This is the ambitious Bristol that I love.

And yet I am wary.  I am wary that in our fear of catastrophic climate change and in our urgency to declare a Climate Emergency, we fail to build a genuinely inclusive movement.  And such a movement is needed to achieve the tremendous change that is required.  

We must drive our society towards sustainability, circularity and carbon neutrality. It is necessary to protect our civilisation, to protect all of us and our planet.  But most of all, we must minimise climate change because climate change is unjust.  It will affect all of us, but it will affect some of us more.  It will affect children more than their parents. The young more than the old.

And it will affect the poor, the vulnerable, the isolated – and it will do so not just because of the unfortunate coincidences of geography but because of the structural inequalities in that same society that we are fighting to save. Heat waves kill the poor, they kill outdoor labourers, the working class. Sea level rise will trap, drown and infect the poor, those without the means and wealth to freely move among nations. The volatility of food production will be particularly devastating to those who already struggle to feed their families, who already lean on food banks and charity. Hurricanes and storms will continue to devastate the communities with the least recourse to escape, who likely already live in flood-prone areas, who can be sacrificed, like those in Puerto Rico, with minimal political repercussions.

Climate change is an affront to our putative ideals of fairness and equality. It is classist.  It is racist.

But if climate action is a question of social justice, then those marginalised groups must be part of the movement.  They must set the agenda of that movement.  They must lead the movement.  And if they are not, those of us who claim the title ‘environmentalist’ cannot ask why they are not engaged, and instead must ask how we have failed.  We must challenge ourselves, our privilege, our dialogue and our institutions and understand how we have excluded them. Have we invited marginalised groups to participate in our events and our agenda?  Or have we honestly co-created an open space for multiple agendas?  Have we recognised that destroying inequality is a legitimate starting point for fighting climate change?  Have we recognised that many of our proposed solutions – entirely rational solutions – can be implicitly racist or sexist? 

If we are going to prevent catastrophic climate change, then we must act fast and with unrelenting persistence. But at the same time, we must be patient, check our privilege and listen to those who have been marginalised by past environmental movements. This is especially true because it is those same marginalised groups who will most likely bear the greatest burden of climate change. We assault these groups doubly if we do not centre their voices in our common cause.  And because the environmental movement is unstoppable – technologically and socially inevitable and therefore economically inevitable – exclusion from these opportunities is yet a third assault.

I am by no means an expert on co-creating powerful social movements, fuelled by equality amongst the participants and effective in achieving change.  But I have been lucky enough to work and learn from those who do. They have shown undeserved patience and understanding and trust.

They taught me that it is vital to recognise not just your own privilege but the economic, historical or social privileges of the institutions one represents. In my case, a world-leading university.  In other cases, a business or a trust – even a small green business or cash-starved charity. And even a movement, especially a movement perceived as being by and for the white middle class.

Having recognised that privilege and in many cases the structural racism, sexism and wider inequalities that come with it, it is our obligation to decolonise those institutions rather than to plead for yet more labour from those our institution oppresses.  It is our obligation to do our own research and to commit our own emotional energy and labour. And when we do work with marginalised groups, we are compelled to respect their expertise by paying them for their services.  Major institutions will pay consultants 100s of thousands of pounds for a re-brand or governance review but ask marginalised groups to help address our diversity challenges by serving for free – by serving on our Boards, attending our workshops, advising on our projects.  It is insulting to imply that the privilege of entering our institutions and projects is adequate compensation for their time, their re-lived trauma or their expertise.

Of course, a recognition of the limitations of our institutions, our organisations and our movements is only the start. The next steps involve a fundamental reckoning with the word ‘our’ in those projects – who has owned these, who owns them now, who will own them in the future?  And given those answers, are they fit for the challenge at hand? Are they projects capable of becoming genuinely co-owned, co-creative spaces, where not just new members are welcomed but also their new ideas, challenges and perspectives?  Or are these projects that must be completely deconstructed, making way for the more energetic ones to come?  Do we ourselves have the humility to deconstruct our own projects and cede our labour to those of someone else?

These are challenging questions and the answers are not as simple as I imply.  Those of us who have been fighting climate change, plastics in the ocean, toxins in our soil, pollution in the air, and the non-sustainable exploitation of our planet are deeply invested in the struggle and in the solutions we have forged. It is not trivial to patiently draw in new perspectives nor to have our ideas questioned – we have been fighting an establishment for five decades that has been guilty of predatory delay and manipulation of public understanding.  We are right to be wary of anything that delays action, right to be uncivil, impatient and intemperate. 

But it is also time to concede that a thousand ripples have yet to become a wave.  Certainly not the wave needed to dismantle the environmental degradation that has become a near-inextricable feature of our society.

In Bristol, we have the potential to create this wave together.  We have a Partnership, a One City Approach and a cross-party ambition without precedent. This is the time to re-invigorate our environmental movement, to align it with our other challenges, to become genuinely inclusive and diverse.  It will not succeed with a simple majority, with a mere 52% of the vote.  It will have to be a new political project but with an apolitical community that rejects the discourse of division and embraces new and unexpected collaborations.

It will be a community that makes use of all of our talent and is united not with a single strategy or action plan but a common cause and shared values. It will be a community that thrives through a multitude of equally respected agendas.

Fighting Austerity, standing up for Bristol

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

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

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

LGA Labour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Boxing Clever

There has been a boxing theme to many of my activities over the past few weeks. Boxing was a big part of my teenage years and taught me discipline, self-control and how to overcome set-backs. I’m a firm believer that sport and physical activity improves people’s lives.

At the end of last year we were pleased to offer Skemer’s Amateur Boxing Gym a Community Asset Transfer lease to manage Jubilee Hall in Knowle as a community boxing club.  Skemer’s have a strong reputation in supporting young people from the local community through boxing, providing structure and discipline, which helps to build their confidence and employability. Their ‘Bully Busters’ project seeks to help and encourage young people who experience harassment on social media and in the street.  As part of the lease, they have been asked to make the building available for other community-based activities. Skemer’s will bring Jubilee Hall back into full use and make it the hub of the local community again.

It was great to bring international amateur boxing to City Hall last month when we played host to boys’ and girls’ school, junior, youth and elite level fighters in a England v. Ireland bout.  This is the first event of its kind to take place in City Hall as I am committed to it being a space open to all. It was a great example of the type of event City Hall can host. As the city’s most pro-sports administration bringing international sport to the city is evidence of the growing reputation we’re earning.

Last weekend I dropped into Broad Plain Amateur Boxing Club to support Bristol boxing legend Dennis Stinchcombe’s  Boxing for Parkinson’s campaign. Under Dennis’s leadership, the club has already received national recognition for the positive impact it is having on young people from deprived areas of Bristol who might otherwise lack direction and focus. Now working with those with dementia speaks to the importance of sport for all for all physical, mental and social health.

Of course I can’t write a blog about boxing and not mention the visit last Friday of HRH the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to the Bristol Boxing Gym to see the work of Empire Fighting Chance. As a long-time supporter of and ambassador for the charity I was especially proud to witness the time Harry and Meghan spent talking to the young people who benefit from the time and dedication shown by the staff.

The Empire Amateur Boxing club has existed in inner-city Bristol for more than 50 years, working with thousands of young people and producing national champions and international representatives. Through former Empire boxer and now Empire Fighting Chance Ambassador, Chris Sanigar, we have produced British, Commonwealth, European and World Champions. Working with youngsters for whom poverty, poor housing and parental unemployment is the norm, the combination of education, mentoring and physical activity effects a powerful change.

I asked Martin Bisp, Chief Executive why he thought the royals had included the gym on their visit to Bristol: “I think that we are getting the attention due to a combination of our credibility, longevity and innovative delivery. This includes things such as embedding psychology throughout delivery and ensuring that we meet an ever changing need.

“In many ways I think we have the Bristol attitude. Things weren’t right, we weren’t convinced by the system so decided to do something about it. Not sure you get much more Bristol than that”.

I couldn’t agree more and was particularly impressed by how genuine the couple were in their interest in the work that Empire does.

Within a few years I hope to see a venue in Bristol that will be large enough to host big name boxing.