My Invitation

I am working with Unions and the Bristol People’s Assembly to co-ordinate a ‘Rally for Bristol’ at midday on 9 September on College Green.

Come along and show you are proud of what Bristol does and what we achieve, but also what we need to make Bristol better. Bristol is at breaking point when it comes to social care and council services and this is an opportunity to display, as a city, our need for funding, investment and powers  from central government.

I’d like as many people, from any political persuasion, to come and show their support for funding and for the Core Cities green paper that we are presenting to Government on 12 September.

I look forward to seeing you there.


Bristol’s VCS

Deputy Mayor Asher Craig and I met with Sandra Meadows (CEO) and Sandy Hoare-Ruthven (Chair) of Voscur this morning.

We talked about the future of the voluntary community sector (VCS) in Bristol.

I have asked Voscur to take on the challenge of setting out the vision for what the VCS needs to be in five, 10, 15 years. This vision for a VCS should take into account the anticipated size, diversity, strengths and support needs of the city’s population. It needs to be a proactive vision that understands the role of the VCS, not as a gap filler that steps in when the public services withdraw, but rather as both and deliverer and evidence of a stronger more empowered society. The VCS represents more than service delivery. It represents local leadership, empowerment and in that sense liberation from dependency on big funders be they private or state. There is big politics in this.

Voscur had already done some great work. They pointed out Bristol’s VCS hasn’t had a strategy since the “Bristol Voluntary and Community Sector Strategy 2010-13”. But this strategy wasn’t fully implemented.

They talked about the need for a thriving VCS, not as an end in itself but as the essential means to a healthy, resilient society. We talked about the challenge of commissioning processes where service provision gets hoovered up by big outside providers and yet results in eth demise of local VCS organisations.

Once the strategy is finalised we will apply it to every aspect of our work. The way we spend public money, the way we intervene in the city and provide services must contribute to delivering the VCS we need.

You can read a longer article of some of my background thinking on the VCS here (pages 6-7)!%20O-N%202016%20WEB%20even%20lower%20res.pdf

Hannover Trip

I spent the weekend with Oberbürgermeister Stefan Schostock marking the 70th anniversary of our cities twinning.

We share a remarkable story. Our bombers destroyed 90% of Hannover through the Second World War leaving it’s people with little hope. But in 1947 a small team from Bristol visited the city and helped establish the city’s first trade fair, an important signal to the world of confidence in the potential of the economy. On hearing how Hannover’s children had no shoes, Bristolians collected shoes and sent them over. These acts of graciousness and compassion were the seeds of this remarkable 70-year relationship, one I believe can be an example to us today.

The depth of the commitment our friends in Hannover have toward us comes out of an ongoing commitment to reconciliation, not as a singular gesture but year on year for 70 years. Our nations had fought each other and killed each other’s children in two world wars. I was taken by the fact that as he told me the story of his city’s destruction, my German host pointed out that Germany had been the aggressor. And yet it was in the horrific aftermath of victory and defeat, good and evil, liberation and destruction that people reached out to draw people back into the community of humanity. And these two peoples (Bristolians and Hannoverians) have worked on this ever since. I do not want to suggest this is a simple story. The atrocities of the war cannot nor should not be forgotten in the face of feel good stories. But true reconciliation is about taking on impossibly broken relationships in complicated circumstances that are often contradictory and committing to the restoration of community whatever the cost. And that is what we have done.

Every day my hosts mentioned Brexit. I pointed out each time the Bristol voted to remain and shared the remarkable fact that in the 14 months since the referendum, the Brexit Secretary has not once proactively approached the leaders of the Core Cities to ask what they need from the Brexit negotiations, and so couldn’t really claim to be speaking for us. I explained Bristol’s ongoing commitment to our twinning and relations with Europe. There was a genuinely emotional response to this. In Hannover we have friends who will look out for Bristol’s interests while our Brexit leaders fumble on.

We also spoke of Trump and Charlottesville and the open assertions of white supremacy and neo-Nazism. We talked of the similar threats across France, the Netherlands, Austria and the need for cities  to take a stand and national governments show themselves unable to cope with the world the way it is. The stark reality we are learning is that a good society cannot be taken for granted. We must work for it every day. As we have invested in the relationship with Hannover, so we must invest in good relationships with all people. If we do not, we risk mischievous individuals such as Farage and Trump exploiting small disturbances and legitimate grievances and turning them into open conflict for their own distorted reasons.  Martin Luther King famously warned of those who lazily believe that ‘progress’ rolled on with the inevitability of time. He suggested that progress was not actually inevitable, and that people of ill will had historically made better use of time than people of good will.


From left to right: Christian Held (Representative of the Mayor of the City of Hannover), Sabine Schofer (Translator), Alix Hughes (BITA coordinator, Bristol), Johannes Gregor (Head of Light Rail, ÜSTRA Hannoversche Verkehrsbetriebe AG), Marvin Rees, Wilhelm Lindenberg (Chief Operating Officer, ÜSTRA Hannoversche Verkehrsbetriebe AG), Elisabeth Lindenberg.




I am deeply saddened to hear of the horrific acts of terror that took place in Barcelona and Cambrils. My thoughts and sympathies are with everyone affected by these shocking events. In a time of political uncertainty and conflict, the need to come together as one and stand in solidarity becomes even more important than before. Needless to say our flag is at half-mast as we stand in solidarity with the victims of these attacks.

Once again, our thoughts are with all those affected.



What a Result!

Thousands of Bristol students are collecting their A-level results today.

I remember my A levels. I didn’t find them easy and was relieved to get to the end of them. I congratulate all young people receiving your results today and wish you the very best in whatever comes next.

You can see some more about the great results Bristol has achieved today here.

If you haven’t done as well as you hoped today, don’t worry. I don’t pretend that disappointment is without pain. But stop, take a breath and remember that the results you have before you today will not determine your whole future.

You have a long life ahead of you and plenty of time to retake or pursue new avenues.

I have experienced disappointment myself and in many ways it has been the making of me. It is overcoming challenge and obstacles that makes a story worth telling.

Someone sent me this clip last night of the actor Denzel Washington talking about success and failure, I’d like to share it with you too.

Tiger by the Tail

Yesterday afternoon my Cabinet endorsed a report to cover an increased spend for the MetroBus Scheme. I have to admit this is frustrating and disappointing at a time councils are facing such a challenging financial settlement from central government.

We inherited the MetroBus Scheme and overspend, as well as the disruption. Nevertheless, we’ve now got to continue and see this through.

I described the situation using a metaphor my wife’s grandfather-in-law used: “you’ve got the tiger by the tail. You don’t want to let go of the tiger because it will bite you, but you wouldn’t want to have hold of its tail in the first place.”

Having spent the sum to date, we need to finalise the scheme despite these difficulties and make it work.

At Cabinet I was frustrated by some comments which suggested that this came at the expense of affordable homes. It is important elected members are explaining how Council budgets work and don’t create false equivalencies.

Because of the way the project is funded by Central Government, you cannot simply take money off MetroBus and use it for affordable homes. Money has been granted by the Department for Transport specifically for it. Failing to deliver would not only put the cash in jeopardy, but would have a reputational impact for our city that would impede our ability to get more government money in the future, including money to build affordable housing.

What’s far more important is that we need to look at transport with a more ambitious eye. We are working on a number of big ideas for transport as well as the urgent need to upgrade Bristol Temple Meads as the gateway for the city. There are a number of other ways to achieve these aims working with the Community Infrastructure Levy, private investment and central government finances.



What is happening in Charlottesville is frightening. It is not new. It is not even surprising. This brand of violent white supremacy simmers away beneath the surface of US society.

When I interned in Washington DC in the late 90s, I worked under a black Baptist Minister from Atlanta who was a veteran of the civil rights movement and grew up with the King family. He pointed me toward the speech Martin Luther King gave on 4th April 1967, a year to the day before he was killed. It was this speech , he said, that signed King’s death warrant. In the speech King warned:

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

We are living this out today. The added dynamic is that the supremacist’s sentiments being demonstrated have been emboldened by the President that has courted fire on questions of what it means to be American, race and belonging, state violence and immigration.

It brings another issue to the fore for me and that is that elections matter. For all those who are disillusioned with electoral politics we are witnessing what happens when we enable the wrong people to take control. They set a tone that has real world implications.

An African American friend of mine once said to me “we don’t vote democrat because they’ll do anything for us, but we know they won’t do anything to us”. At the time I thought that was visionless and cynical. Today I find it more astute. Sometimes the job of politics is to do your limited best to hold back bad things. That is not glamorous, but it’s an approach born of lived experience of political marginalisation.

Let me say finally that this is an American problem, but it is also an international problem. The US sets a tone for the world. Marginalised people are internationally connected. “A threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”, as Dr King once wrote. It’s critical that cities around the world support those US cities stepping up to lead where their national government has let them, and the world, down.

Shipshape and Bristol Fashion

This morning I was lucky enough to get some work experience with the Harbour Master.  I got to see first-hand what the Harbour Master’s important role involves and some of the challenges it presents, such as keeping the docks working whilst supporting the harbour community. Bristol City Council is a unique position because unlike a lot of other councils, we actually manage our harbour ourselves. The harbour team do a lot of work ensuring we have a safe and vibrant harbour we can enjoy, while also protecting the city from flooding.

After embarking the Harbour Master boat ‘Mariner’ I was shown underneath Plimsoll Bridge to look at the challenges our aging infrastructure presents.   A lot of the city’s bridges were built over 100 years ago, which means repairs are more complex, time consuming and often costly too.  Prince St Bridge was a recent example of how difficult repairs can be on these older structures.

It’s these historic sites which make our city unique and therefore why we must protect and maintain them.

On my way back to the office I bumped into members of the Bristol Merchant Navy Association, who invited me into their coffee morning. They kindly offered me a cup and we talked about Bristol’s world-famous maritime heritage and how the harbour and its uses have transformed.

Since this morning’s visit to Plimsoll Bridge, one lane has been closed for the weekend for emergency repairs.   The team are working hard to get it fixed, but this is a perfect example of the challenges we face while using ageing 1960’s infrastructure.

I remember cycling along the harbour when it was full of derelict warehouses. It’s amazing to think about how much has changed since then and what future development could look like. I want to thank the harbour team for their time this morning, and for the work they do for this important asset every day.


The Hot Seat

I was sat in John Darvall’s ‘hot-seat’ yesterday morning taking calls from Bristol citizens. I see this as a regular healthy exercise to engage direct with Bristol residents. During the hour, John and I discussed a ‘job swap’ where I helped to host his show for one day and John would come and work with me for a day. This is a great idea and an opportunity for John, as a journalist who hosts politicians and discusses political issues to experience politics at first hand; and for me to experience the different focus of John’s job, hosting a daily phone-in and discussion programme. I also reckon I could play better music.

Politics and media are inter-twined and have essential responsibilities to each other. Politicians should be open and prepared to be held to account and journalists have a duty to openly question political decisions and find truth. However, journalists have more responsibilities than are often considered, particularly in recent years as news coverage has moved away from detail and often towards the sensationalist. There needs to be an understanding they are part of the elite, they can influence thinking and can energise often deliberately negative debate in the name of creating the conflict that is entertainment. The ever present ‘vox pop’ of radio and TV can bias coverage unless carefully managed. The minority voice can often be displayed as the only voice because it’s easy to find and more difficult to seek out majority, quieter views.

This direction of travel for media outlets, of sensationalism and opposition voices is too simple and failing all of us. Just as politicians have to work hard to consider all views, varying options and sometimes make the difficult choices, so journalists and editors should be held to the same standard – the necessity to tell the truth in an unbiased way that shows the arguments in detail and through a prism that reflects the complexities of life and society – even if it costs an easy headline or an internet click or two.


Going Through The Lobby

You may have seen that I have now formally invited the Core Cities to join with me and our city to hold a national lobby of Parliament in September. I have spent the last two days with core cities and raised the opportunity with them and followed up formally in writing.

There is no doubt cities are close to breaking point when it comes to social care, children’s services and other services and the austerity policies have to be reversed in favour of a pro-investment agenda. Cities need more funding and greater city sovereignty, to face the issues of the day.

You will see the Cities Green Paper soon.  By definition, this has been a piece of work by committee and doesn’t achieve everything I would like to see but forms a basis of our ask to Government. Alongside that ask, we need to show Government how strongly many of us feel about the reductions in funding and the growing pressures on services and that’s why I have asked other cities to join the national lobby day so all citizens can ask their own MP to support the call for realistic funding.

I said publicly last week, people need more than protest. They also need something to believe in, not just argue against. Every great movement articulated and modelled in their behaviours a vision of the better society. We need to do the same.

Our activities will form a very strong two pronged approach to the Government. We will argue for more funding and powers through the lobby while presenting solutions to Government through the Green Paper. We will articulate what Bristol and other cities could be.

I will be writing to Trade Unions in the city, community groups, the People’s Assembly and other groups as well as inviting all citizens to come and join us. This is not shouting from the sidelines. This is building relationships that mean we can raise a shared voice for positive solutions.  Please look out for more details soon.