Thank you, Bristol

I want to start my Christmas and New Year message by saying a big thank you to everyone who has done their part to keep cases down and lift Bristolians’ spirits up.

2020 has been a challenge for so many people and Bristol has shown real solidarity in supporting those most in need. Hidden heroes have been hard at work across our city, working not for recognition but simply to help friends, neighbours, and strangers.

This year has undoubtedly been a difficult one; more difficult than has been seen for generations. One old proverb has felt more apt than ever: “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

In these tough times, suffering sadly abounds. But, amidst the darkness of loss, hardship, and sacrifice, moments of hope have shone through this year. Whether it’s the neighbour dropping round prescriptions for someone who’s isolating or shielding; the redeployed worker coordinating PPE deliveries; the hotelier opening their doors to put a roof over someone’s head; the local councillor filling up his campervan with items for the food bank; the carer looking after often isolated and vulnerable residents; or the business adapting to keep trading and keep staff on; or our football clubs delivering food parcels to vulnerable fans – Bristol’s perseverance and character has reached new heights in 2020.

Just as we must all follow the rules to keep each other safe, we must pull together – because collectively there is no ceiling to what we can achieve. At a time when we continue to restrict ourselves to protect our communities, we are reminded that Bristol’s kindness and compassion has been limitless. This year, more than ever, I have been proud to be Bristolian.

Bringing people together to tackle city challenges has never been more important. A case-in-point is how Bristol has come together as one city to feed children and vulnerable people. Thanks to the generosity of individual Bristolians, restaurateurs, community groups, and charities, we have worked hard to make sure that Bristolians do not go hungry.

Everyone has a part to play in rebuilding a better Bristol, a place where social and environmental justice go hand-in-hand. We are determined to build a city where talent and hard work  determine where you end up – rather than who your parents are, where you were born, or what you sound like. City partners are helping towards an economic recovery which builds back better, rather than reconstructing old inequalities.

As we look forward to 2021, the future can hold much to be hopeful for – with our incredible NHS and other keyworkers already delivering a vaccine. Bristol has a renewed spirit of striving to help others, another shot in the arm in these troubled times.

We can start next year with real hope, if we continue to keep each other safe. Together we can build a better Bristol where nobody is left behind: a City of Hope.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy, New Year.

Wise heads on young shoulders

Today’s guest blog is from Alice Towle and John Wayman, Bristol’s Youth Mayors.

First of all, as Youth Mayors we want to extend a massive thank you to all of Bristol’s young people for staying strong throughout what has been an undeniably horrible year.

From the stress of remote learning and exam result uncertainty to the unsettling contrast of soldiering on at school while cases surge, all compounded with individual losses felt by young people, 2020 has taken a toll on everyone’s mental health. Although the holidays will continue to be uncertain for many, hopefully we can all take a moment to remind ourselves of the strength it has taken just to get to this point. If we can do that, we can tackle whatever 2021 throws at us.

And now a classic holiday message for Bristol’s adults: be kind to the young people in your lives. Although everyone has gone through a lot this year, young people’s experience has been uniquely strange and disruptive. Although different people will respond to this disruption differently, try your best to be compassionate and understanding, giving them support if you can.

That sense of understanding is something to hang on to as we go into 2021. In an increasingly chaotic and polarised world it’s important sometimes to take a step back and consider the situation instead of pressing on blindly. Hopefully doing that can keep us all sane in the coming months.

Gathering momentum

Today, some 300 representatives from all corners of the city came together for the latest City Gathering. Bristolians listened, networked, and shared insights into our recovery and looked at how we will build a stronger future. Although held virtually again, everyone was keen to engage and look at how we can make plans into reality.

We started the event by focusing on how we can come together as one city, to benefit the many different parts of our society. Daniel White from The Robins Foundation and Adam Tutton from Bristol Rovers Community Trust led the way by being our first speakers, explaining how the two clubs have played a key role in bringing people together through sport.

With the help of speakers from Avon and Somerset Police and BrunelCare as well as one of the new COVID marshals, we also heard about life on the front line touching upon some the issues they have experienced during the last six to eight months. Dan Edozie from the Bristol Flyers joined us to speak about turning adversity around to make opportunities for change and emphasised the need to protect our young people, especially during periods of crisis.

While it is only right that we focused heavily on our challenges this year, it’s also important to look back and see how far we have come. This is why we wanted to showcase examples of the positive work that’s happening across Bristol. Organisations like Feeding Bristol  are helping both in the provision of food to communities and  supporting local food groups to overcome blockages in the system. Coupled with Bristol Bites Back and Going for Gold,  Bristol’s city-wide initiative to be one of the UK’s first gold sustainable food cities, we are making great strides in the city’s food response.

Bristol actor Joe Sims captured everyone’s imagination with his passion for doing good in the city and the importance of talking about positive work rather than focusing on the negative. The passion he showed for his 500 Reasons initiative – where individuals donate small regular amounts each week to collectively make a £500 donation to local causes – was   was one of the highlights of the day.

Martin Bisp and Jamie Sanigar emphasised the importance of recognising the systemic issues of inequality in the city from their perspective at Empire Fighting Chance. Other speakers highlighted the impact of ongoing issues such as domestic abuse, gender inequality, mental health, unemployment, the role of young people and  older people within our city amongst others.

As our special guest this time, we were  honoured to welcome Dame Martina Milburn, Group Chief Executive at The Prince’s Trust. Speaking about supporting people at this critical time, Dame Martina illustrated some of the areas that we, as a country, need to be focusing our energies on. From jobs, education and training, we need to engage with our young people to give them hope for their future prospects and work with our partners at a local level to make it all happen.

Today’s gathering was truly encouraging, giving a sense of optimism despite the 2020 we have had. We have all shown a resilience that is testament to our collaborative way of working and one which should hopefully see us through these tough times and beyond.

Lastly, a special mention goes to Guy Orpen, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University, who is stepping down from his role in  December. Thank you to Guy all the hard work he has done for Bristol and we all hope he has a wonderful retirement.

I also want to thank everyone else for attending and wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

If you would like to be involved in next City Gathering or you just want to find out a little more about the One City approach, please contact the City Office.

What a bloody year

On 18 December 2019 (a year ago to the day!) after a whirlwind year of endless meetings, emails and hard work, we launched Period Friendly Bristol. Chosen by city leaders as one of 2019’s top three One City priorities, the launch event marked the culmination of a series of partnership initiatives with over 100 organisations across a wide range of sectors contributing to making the vision a reality, including Hargreaves Lansdown, Jacobs, WSP, Burges Salmon, Bristol Connected City, Plimsoll Productions, City to Sea, The Real Period Project, Collectively, Hey Girls, Bristol City Youth Council, and Friska to name just a few.

Based on shocking statistics including that more than 140,000 women and girls miss school every year due to an inability to afford period products and 48% of students are embarrassed about their periods, Bristol has taken a leading role in eradicating period poverty by working to make period products available to all who need them, while also combating outdated societal attitudes to menstruation. We set about this by working with Bristol’s tech and data community, facilitated by Bristol Open Data, and a range of corporate partners, to set up our web app to coordinate a donation and distribution network of period products in several locations across the city, with people being able to put in their postcode and find free period products near them on a ‘take what you need’ basis.

We also worked with The Real Period Project and City to Sea on an education programme. The programme addresses a number of aspects of period dignity and menstrual health, as well as tackling period stigma and informing young people about the environmental sustainability of products. A Period Friendly Schools charter was also developed, with training, guidance and lesson plans to be provided. When schools closed their doors during the lockdown, trainers managed to complete all of their training online. We have developed guidance on how schools can become period friendly and this will be on the Healthy Schools website after Christmas. I also sat on the government’s Period Poverty Advisory Taskforce advising on the national approach to these issues based on the approach we developed in Bristol.

It is clear that Covid-19 and its response continue to highlight gender inequalities within our society. It is also clear that periods don’t stop in a pandemic. This is why the Bristol One City vision to eradicate period poverty and to be a city of period dignity, in which nobody is held back in life or stigmatised against simply for having a period, has gained even greater urgency this year. Research tells us that Covid-19 has exacerbated period poverty. Findings from Plan International UK’s recent report indicate that 11 per cent of girls aged 14-21 have not been able to afford period products in lockdown instead resorting to makeshift products such as toilet roll, socks, fabric or paper. Almost a third of those who responded said that they struggled to access or afford these items during lockdown. This simply shouldn’t be happening. That’s why we have now established Period Friendly Places as a charity, with a view to expanding our model beyond Bristol, and will continue to work with our city partners to get products to those who need them and to address stigma. This is something that we can only tackle if we do it collaboratively, as One City.

WECA, WECA, WECA, tell me more, tell me more

In recent weeks, you may have seen some coverage about North Somerset joining the West of England Combined Authority (WECA). In the interests of transparency, we are pleased to share details of our correspondence on the issue as well as a timeline and the prospectus that we had hoped to share with Government, had we been able to secure a meeting with them.

It’s important to again be clear that I’ve always supported the expansion of WECA. North Somerset are a key part of our region and I would support them joining where it would benefit and not disadvantage Bristol residents. In fact I’ve supported co-operation that extends beyond the WECA footprint including North Somerset, to ensure we’re taking a truly regional approach to key issues such as transport, housing and jobs.

I believe we have an opportunity to deliver what the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine have delivered in the North and Midlands respectively. That’s why I’m pleased to see the progress that’s being made in relation to the Western Gateway, which we founded with Cardiff and Newport, a cross-border economic partnership with a focus on clear and inclusive growth for the region. This partnership covers an area from Swansea to Swindon and from Gloucester to Bath.

The issue here is not that we don’t want North Somerset to join. The issues are many. Among them are:

  • That there is no Government financial offer on the table to support expansion, which means we potentially risk splitting the existing pot four ways instead of three. That would disadvantage Bristolians. It is not possible to have a meaningful consultation with people of Bristol and the city region if we don’t know the offer or what we’re asking people. We’ve had two cancelled meetings with government at which we wanted to get a Government commitment to adequately fund any expansion. The only offer has been for Luke Hall MP to have a conversation with the Treasury. We have had no new offer, despite other regions having up to six new financial deals since they created their combined authorities.
  • We are the economic centre of the region, representing around two-thirds of the region’s economy, but there is no recognition of this in the way in which regional decisions are made. I have repeatedly highlighted concerns when it comes to governance, when so often I have faced a push for money to be split three ways. Not in relation to population, not in relation to need or economic impact, just a crude three way split. Combined authorities exist to take a strategic look at where money is best invested in a region. Sadly we are lacking that. An example of this is High Streets where we face the assumption that funding is shared evenly, despite Bristol having 47 high streets – a third more than Bath & North East Somerset and four times as many as South Gloucestershire.

Beyond this, we have sometimes had open opposition voiced to the investment needs of Bristol, on issues ranging from housing in Hengrove, to the mass transit system, to the work to bring forward the new University Campus in Temple Quarter. This is important to our city’s interests and ensuring that WECA works.

I am batting for the investment that Bristol needs for us to grow in an inclusive and sustainable way. It’s my job to stand up for Bristol’s interests and I make no apology for doing so, even when the consequences get contentious.

It’s disappointing that these debates are being had in public. It does nothing to improve government trust in our ability to deliver. Bristol is focused on delivery and that is why we have taken a stand for our city.

The people behind the numbers

Twenty-three homeless people are estimated to have died in Bristol in 2019, according to the Office for National Statistics. Along with cities like Liverpool, Manchester, and Birmingham, Bristol tragically ranks amongst the most affected in England and Wales.

Homelessness is a complex issue but the simple truth is this: one person sleeping rough is one person too many; one death on our streets is one death too many.

The pandemic has only further highlighted this long-standing injustice. Working together as One City, since March we have supported 1,200 people with housing placements and helped 700 more families keep a roof over their heads. Across Bristol, people are struggling to make ends meet – only a few steps away from crisis. It has never been more important to safeguard our city’s safety net, and we continue to provide a range of support to Bristolians. To seek advice if you, or someone you know, is at risk from homelessness, please visit our dedicated website for advice and support. If you are concerned about someone sleeping rough, please make a referral through Street Link.

It is welcome that Bristol has secured almost £5 million of funding towards longer-term solutions, including additional accommodation and wrap-around services. Our hope is that there will be a clear and sustainable funding settlement for homelessness, so that we never return to the endless bidding-and-waiting bingo structure; otherwise uncertainty will continue to compound crises, with all that means for those depending on councils to help end this injustice.

Human Rights Day: Treating everyone with dignity and respect

To mark this occasion, today’s blog comes from my Inclusion Adviser on Migration, Forward Maisokwadzo

Today is Human Rights Day, 10 December – the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. This milestone document proclaims the inalienable rights to which everyone is entitled as human beings – regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, gender, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, or any other status.

The Declaration arose from a desire to never again witness the dreadful inhumanity which had led to millions of people being killed in a war that had affected the globe. It was never a set of supreme statements but a set of practical standards by which humanity should seek to live and conduct itself, by which the nations of the world would co-exist in peace and unity. It is all about what it means to be human.

This year’s Human Rights Day theme, Recover Better – Stand Up for Human Rights, relates to the COVID-19 pandemic and focuses on the need to build back better by ensuring Human Rights are central to recovery efforts. It could not be more relevant. We will only achieve our common global goals if we are able to create equal opportunities for all, address the failures exposed and fueled by the COVID-19 crisis, and apply human rights standards to tackle entrenched, systemic, and intergenerational inequalities, exclusion and discrimination.

December 10is an opportunity to reaffirm the importance of human rights in re-building our city and the world we want, the need for global solidarity, (including city to city) as well as to celebrate interconnectedness and shared humanity.

The UN Human Rights’ generic call to action “Stand Up for Human Rights” aims to engage the general public and the UN family to bolster transformative action and showcase practical and inspirational examples that can contribute to recovering better and fostering more resilient and just societies.

From here in Bristol I am aware of so many events and debates being held, nationally and across the globe, to acknowledge and celebrate this day. I am sure these events, debates and discussions, the majority of them being held virtually due to the pandemic, will provide an opportunity to highlight what has been achieved to date while at the same time pointing us all to the work that still needs to be done.

Three global issues – the pandemic, racial inequality, and the climate emergency – show that what we have in common as human beings is far more important than our differences.

As we look ahead to 2021, what are the pivotal human rights issues that all of us should be paying attention to?  We are at the dawn of a decade when the decisions we make as a City and in society at large on how to address economic inequality, climate change, technological innovation, and political polarisation will shape our shared future for generations to come.

I hope there will be a sense that human rights are the concern of all, and not just the concern of a particular minority interest group. The challenge is increasingly to make human rights part and parcel of ordinary discourse, debate and priority especially in the current environment where political debate has often become toxic and divisive, and basic human rights become invisible.

The world does not stand still and as we celebrate human rights today we need to consider the challenges which are affecting our communities now. We must stand united with so many groups across Bristol, the UK and globally who are calling for everyone to be treated with dignity and respect: the carers, LGBT communities, children, older people, people affected by dementia, black and minority ethnic communities, people seeking sanctuary and other migrant communities, people with learning disabilities, people affected by the Windrush scandal, women experiencing domestic violence, among many others.

The UK has long played a leading role in protecting human rights across the globe and was one of the first nations to sign the UDHR. British lawyers drafted the European Convention on Human Rights in 1950, which in 1998 was given further effect in UK law through the Human Rights Act. As we celebrate this global Human Rights Day and in the midst of a pandemic, it is worrying the Government has recently ordered to review the Human Rights Act. Such a move Amnesty International says puts some communities and rights at risk. The human rights watchdog stressed that it is important for Government to understand that promoting universal human rights should not just be abroad, but here at home as well. Hillsborough, Grenfell, and other issues underline the importance of an effective Human Rights Act here in the UK. As we celebrate Human Rights Day the Government needs to reflect on whether there is need to review the rights and freedoms that underpin our democracy.

End Our Cladding Scandal

Three-and-a-half years on from the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower, there is still a real lack of clarity from the Government on how to tackle remaining cladding issues. Justice4Grenfell, the Fire Brigades’ Union, and other campaigners are right to continue to highlight dangerous building materials and need for stronger regulations.

Bristol residents remain understandably worried about if and when cladding will be replaced, who will be doing the work, and who will be footing the bill. In the meantime, around the country, concerning reports are emerging of leaseholders not being able to move or sell due to a shortage of certified inspectors; properties being mis-advertised amid a market crisis; freeholders refusing inspections; and forms being signed off by unqualified persons. This issue cuts across a number of national government departments – demanding both major attention and, most likely, several billion pounds worth of funding.

Full Council is due to consider a cross-party motion this afternoon on this subject, which has been published on the council’s website. Ahead of the meeting, I can confirm my support for the End Our Cladding Scandal campaign, calling for much needed additional support from national government.

While only national government currently has the resources to fund a comprehensive solution, options are being explored for how the council might support residents. This could include lobbying private building owners and housing associations, and looking at what scope exists for pre-occupation planning conditions to be withheld where there are outstanding issues in Bristol. The motion, strengthened by Cllr Nicola Beech, my Cabinet Member for Spatial Planning and City Design, also explores whether the Council might be able to use freeholder application fees to upskill and sustain a dedicated building control team to perform EWS1 assessments. There is also consideration of a training scheme for local councillors and encouraging these representatives to increase pressure on freeholders as needed.

For more information about improvements to fire safety in council houses and high-rise blocks, please visit the Council’s dedicated webpage.

Supporting Bristol’s hospitality sector

The Government has placed Bristol into tier 3, but left the city’s businesses and council with a multi-million pound shortfall.

We support the calls by the Bristol Association of Restaurants, Bars, and Independent Establishments (BARBIE) for more support from the Government. Here’s my full reply to their recent letter.

Dear Brendan,

Thank you for sharing the attached letter with me and for reaching out regarding support for Bristol’s hospitality sector.

I appreciate how challenging this year has been, particularly for those working in hospitality. The way in which businesses have adapted to keep people safe in recent months has been phenomenal, although this will have undoubtedly taken its toll.

I recognise there are gaps in support and have written to government several times on the issue. I have also spoken publicly about the need for more comprehensive support, most recently alongside Andy Burnham, Sadiq Khan and Steve Rotherham in collaboration with ExcludedUK.

Unfortunately, I have no power to ask that landlords don’t collect rent and Bristol City Council is not in a position to pay the rents of hospitality businesses. We are facing a multi-million pound black hole as a result of the pandemic, with the real prospect of cuts being made as a result of inadequate support from government.

I am pleased to see you including the city’s MPs in the conversation, as they are well placed to raise these issues on the national stage.

I’m keen we continue working closely with the sector and would be grateful if you could help us to quantify the impact on hospitality businesses in the city. For example, do you have figures relating to the rent arrears that businesses may be facing and the costs associated with your asks? This will allow us to consider how best to highlight this issue.

We will continue to use the tools available to us to support all those who have signed your letter, as well as drawing attention to the challenges facing the sector more broadly.

Thank you once again for reaching out and I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind regards,

Marvin Rees

Mayor of Bristol

Small Business Saturday

Today’s guest blog is from Councillor Afzal Shah, Cabinet Member for Sustainable Growth, Climate, and Ecology and Labour Councillor for Easton.

Small Business Saturday is a welcome opportunity for us to celebrate the vital importance of small businesses to local neighbourhoods and communities. By shopping at our local businesses, and on our local high streets, we help ensure that they receive the vital support which they deserve in the run up to the all-important Christmas shopping period. Simply put: shopping locally is shopping sustainably.

Small local businesses employ local people and invest locally, but have faced unprecedented difficulty throughout the year. We are keen to ensure our high streets and local businesses are vibrant, sustainable, and continue to thrive as much as possible. We know that 2020 has been tough, and continue to provide a range of support to local businesses and call for more help from national Government.

In Easton, as local residents and councillors, Councillor Ruth Pickersgill and I know how loved local independent businesses are. Along Stapleton Road and St Marks Road, local eateries, pubs, grocers, supermarkets, florists, gift shops, post offices, and much more besides contribute much to our vibrant local identity – alongside charities, places of worship, and other community groups. Traders associations have brought an entrepreneurial buzz to the area, with still more potential in the regeneration of the old job centre building. To help highlight Bristol businesses, Thangam Debbonaire, the MP for Bristol West, has started the #IndependentBristol campaign on social media, encouraging people to use the hashtag to profile independent shops, restaurants and other small businesses in the run up to Christmas.

Local small businesses continue to play a pivotal in local communities, especially when most of us were confined to our homes for much of this year. Local businesses espouse a sense of friendship and interaction between shoppers and staff. It is these local businesses that, according to the Federation of Small Businesses, offer employment to almost 3 million people, and nobody quite knows local communities in the same way as local retailers and shopkeepers.

All in all, local small businesses make a huge contribution to the local economy, locally investing over 60 pence in every £1 – they really are the lifeblood of the UK’s economy.