Covid-19: The view from Bristol’s Youth Mayors

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

In these times that seem rather bleak, news seems permanently glum, but today there is some good news to share.

We are really proud to hear from Avon and Somerset police that the young people of Bristol are taking the Covid-19 ‘stay at home’ instructions seriously.

It is so vital that we keep this good work up! This is the only way that we can protect our NHS. The more people that observe these measures, the sooner this lockdown can be lifted and the sooner we can return to some sort of normalcy. We are so impressed that the young people of Bristol are setting the example for how everyone should be acting at the moment. But if you see young people out and about on social media, consider questioning them, and do your part to protect our NHS.

We also thought that we would include a bit about how we are staying occupied and looking after ourselves during lockdown.

Alice
So if the real world still existed then I would be preparing to take my GCSE exams and while some people were happy for this, I really needed to take some time away from everything to mourn that, because I was pretty upset, I must admit. So to keep on top of work and keep my brain ticking over I am taking a few Open Uni free online courses and I can’t recommend them enough, especially if you are in year 11 without work set from your sixth form yet.

I have also been making sure to do German work daily as I am taking it for A-Level next year. I am so thankful that my secondary school is keeping in regular contact with us when they are given information about our exams and our futures. Make sure that you reach out to your friends and keep in contact with your family. And I am sure we will return to a new normal at some point.

John
I’m currently in year 12 so obviously when it comes to school I’m not as affected by closures as others as I wasn’t preparing for any major exams. Yet I’d be lying if I said school hasn’t got harder since lockdown began. Trying to understand ideas in subjects like English and history is a lot easier with peers to discuss them with. Also, the stressful abnormality of the situation we’re in cannot be ignored. It seems unfair to assume everyone will be able to maintain typical levels of work under such stressful circumstances. If you’re a young person struggling with work during this time, try to remember that your mental health is the most important thing to take care of. More important than schoolwork or deadlines could ever be.

We will come out of this eventually and I’m hopeful that, if we all take care of ourselves during this difficult time, we’ll emerge stronger than before and ready to pick up the pieces of the fragmented world around us.

No Going Back

I was pleased to hear the Prime Minister encouraging the country to return to work on foot and by bike when the lockdown is lifted.

It reflected the reality that releasing the country from the lockdown is inevitable, complex, necessary and fraught with risk. There are fundamental principles that must be in place to minimise an easing of restrictions leading to a second surge of Covid. Among them are:

  • Hand washing and hygiene
  • Social/Physical Distancing
  • Shielding the vulnerable
  • Identification and contact tracing

Walking and cycling will support with social distancing. It may also be the case that people and businesses have learnt new working patterns, perhaps that not everybody needs to attend a place of work daily and we can enhance the working from home arrangements, where possible.

But we need government to back that verbal encouragement with the legislative space and proactive investment cities need to redesign themselves. This will enable us to introduce changes that are thought through, systemic and minimise the potential of unintended consequences, rather than ad hoc and temporary.

Our Deputy Mayor Craig Cheney and Exec Director of Business West James Durie are co-chairs of the Bristol One City Economy Board. They have brought the board together every week since the crisis began to plan how we survive: by understanding business risks/needs, supporting us paying out business grants and how we face the potential of mass unemployment.  But also, they are planning how we will recover. Through supporting business to find recovering markets, skills programmes to support people back into work and securing the investment Bristol needs.

In those sessions we have discussed not only how we get the economy moving again and maintain high levels of employment, but how we proactively build the future economy into one we want and need – one that is more sustainable and inclusive. We have been thinking through how we can make the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals the framework for the new economy. We are framing a challenge that takes account of traditionally economic issues, such as investment and jobs, but also takes seriously the context within which the economy operates and considers issues such as our mental health, childcare and education.

In taking these questions on we are not talking about a project here and a project there. We are talking about the need for a 20-25 year programme of work to redesign our cities and transform the systems (energy, waste, transport, water, food, education) within which we live. Our cities and systems have grown and developed with little regard to the planet. The result is that if you want to live a low impact life you have to be aware, intentional and be able to afford to pay for it. We need a system that makes low impact living something our system provides even if you are not thinking about it or able to spend the extra to buy the locally sourced, organic option. You don’t, for example, have to think about or pay more to use one of Bristol’s biogas buses rather than a diesel bus. You just catch the bus.

We need government to break free of Whitehall and talk directly with city leaders about the scale of our ambition, the cost and opportunity in overhauling the re-design of our cities. They need to come to those talks ready to back us in securing the billions of pounds of investment that will be required.

And now is the time to do this. There is a practical reality that redesigning roads, pavements and digging holes is easier while there are fewer cars on the road. And there is an economic reality that bringing the investment forward into our depressed economy can bring the stimulus we need to enable our local businesses and jobs to survive.

International Workers’ Day: Economic recovery & employment in Bristol

Nigel Costley. South West TUC. © Jess Hurd

To mark International Workers’ Day, today’s blog comes from Nigel Costley, South West TUC Regional Secretary.

Ernie Bevin was a young carter, delivering bottles of pop and water around Bristol at the time of depression at the end of the Boer war. He would go on to become the leader of Britain’s largest union, the Transport and General Workers’ Union (TGWU), Minister for Labour during the Second World War, and Foreign Secretary after it.

But in 1908 he knew something had to be done to tackle rising unemployment. He led a silent protest into a service at Bristol Cathedral that led to negotiations with the ‘City Fathers’ for a programme of public works. Funded by the public and private sectors, it created real Jobs with pay and dignity. One project was to dig a lake in Bristol’s Eastville Park that became known as ‘Bevin’s Lake’.

We need even more imagination now. While the economy takes time to recover those without work will need more than a new CV and some interview skills to apply for jobs that aren’t going to be there.

The boldness shown by the Chancellor in the health emergency will be needed for the recovery. The state will need to stimulate and rapidly deliver meaningful work. And there is lots to do.

There will be lots of ideas. We could start by attracting a new army of care workers – not zero-hour, over-worked and poorly paid – but high-status professionals with career prospects and training for a newly-valued health and care sector.

We know thousands of homes will have to be refitted, ready for a carbon-free world and this is an opportunity to do it. And let’s build the kerb-side charging network for the electric vehicles we will need to have too.

Instead of digging a lake, we should plant some of the millions of trees promised by politicians at the last election. Not ‘Bevin’s Lake’, but a new forest!

We also must stop punishing people for learning new skills. If someone wants to spend time at college to learn how to be a bricklayer, social worker, engineer or whatever, we should support them. Currently we take away their benefits because they are deemed to be not actively seeking work! This demands a big revival of adult education in our colleges.

But we are not in a good shape to do this, especially in England.

An emergency recovery plan won’t be delivered through the mish-mash of austerity-starved local councils, local enterprise partnerships, combined authorities and metro mayors. It won’t help that government departments no longer share the same geographic footprints – a consequence of the scorched-earth policy of the 2010 government.

We need a cluster of powerful recovery task groups, big enough to have the fire-power and expertise to deliver, but still small enough to understand their patch and work closely with local partners. And, crucially, include employers, unions and the voluntary sector.

There needs to be just enough task groups so their leaders can fit in a room – even an online one. As few contact points as possible between ministers and delivery are needed.

And we need it fast. Bevin saw how damaging unemployment was to the human spirit as well as the economy.

When the economy eventually gets back on its feet we should be better than before and not leave a legacy of broken lives.

Councillors in their communities

Today’s guest blog comes from Labour Councillor Don Alexander (Avonmouth and Lawrence Weston – Labour). To find your local city councillor, visit the Council’s website.

As community champions, we would normally be out-and-about, holding surgeries and community meetings in our wards, or in City Hall in face-to-face meetings. Some of these events have been cancelled to support physical distancing; many are now taking place over the phone or online instead, as we stay home to protect our NHS and save lives.

Meanwhile, our council, NHS, and other key workers remain on the frontline. I’m sure that councillors of all parties would want to join me in thanking them for working so hard to keep us all safe and to keep Bristol going.

https://twitter.com/BristolCouncil/status/1253398295667408896

On a recent Labour Group zoom call, we pulled together a few examples of what we’ve been doing to support our communities in these tough times – in addition to working constructively with the administration and council officers:

  • Encouraging people to register to volunteer via Can Do Bristol;
  • Linking up with grassroots groups supporting their neighbours through shopping and medicine deliveries;
  • Nominating community food-growing groups to receive some 3,000 vegetable plants from Blaise Estate nursery, and joining up local volunteers with the Community Larder scheme;
  • Working with officers to ensure that residents’ questions are answered and making referrals for emergency help;
  • Developing public health messages in more of the 91 languages spoken in Bristol, and delivering leaflets outlining what help is available;
  • Checking in with local residents who may be vulnerable, elderly, or isolated;
  • Continuing to liaise with the police and other partners about local issues, including anti-social behaviour, fly-tipping, and speeding;
  • Working with tenants and landlords to prevent evictions;
  • Highlighting the amazing work of local volunteers and organisations through the Mayor’s #HiddenHeroes campaign on social media.

At a time where fake news can spread quickly, we have also been sure to share all of the latest information and measures with residents and community groups.

From encouraging businesses to register for council grants to promoting advice for victims of domestic abuse, to boosting awareness of the freephone helpline (0800 694 0184) and our 100% council tax reduction scheme, we will continue sharing everything that the council is doing to support Bristolians.

Our sustainable and inclusive route to economic recovery – Cabinet speech 28.04.20

Yesterday we held our first virtual Cabinet meeting on Zoom. You can watch my opening speech about economic recovery below or read more about it here https://news.bristol.gov.uk/news/mayor-of-bristol-backs-sustainable-and-inclusive-route-to-economic-recovery

Here is a transcript of this speech.

Thank you.

As this is our first cabinet since the Covid lockdown, I also wanted to share some thoughts just to develop a common understanding of the scale of the challenge were facing in Bristol. Now, as a city, we have responded well to this pandemic. This was helped by the fact we had already built strong relationships through the city office and we were able to reorient those relationships towards tackling this challenge that comes against the whole of Bristol.

In our approach we’ve taken a whole host of actions to keep Bristol safe through this crisis.

Core to them has been a focus on:

  • Ensuring people can eat
  • Supporting women and children facing domestic violence and abusive situations
  • Making sure we are getting the grants out of the council and into the bank accounts of the businesses to help them survive
  • Getting  PPE out to our front line workers
  • And communicating with the city through regular interviews and press conferences, blogs and vlogs about what is going on and the latest state of play to counter the misinformation out there to make sure we were in touch with the truth and we’ve stitched that right in the centre of the many actions that we’ve taken on.

But I just want to be clear about the scale of the challenge:

So first off this the biggest global health crisis in a century.

World Health Organisation suggests 3 million confirmed cases worldwide, with at least 200,000 deaths, in 213 countries.

In Bristol we’ve seen 576 cases and as you’ll know Bristol’s fared quite well compared to the rest of the country and that’s not to make light of the challenge that it has been, but our numbers have been low but this is the biggest global health crisis in a century

Secondly the actions we must take to manage Covid are contributing to the most significant hit to the economy since the Great Depression – possibly even greater than that. The Office of Budget Responsibility is suggesting GDP could contract by 35% in the second quarter, which is phenomenal.

And on top of that, the increased costs, and lost revenue, is pulling the already stretched finances of local government apart. Ebony Hughes of consultancy Impower was in the Municipal Journal (a local government magazine) and he said “every recently approved medium term financial strategy will need to go back to the drawing board. Authorities without healthy reserves will be worrying about being pushed over the edge, but even those in a stronger will be challenged by the prospect of setting a balanced budget next year.” Local Government all across this country are facing an incredible financial challenge at the time in which they are called on to lead and when their services and interventions are most needed by their populations. Craig is going to talk more about that later in the meeting.

And there are some complexities that sit within this crisis and I think these are what are called wicked problems because they feed themselves.

The unemployment and inequality that results from the economic downturn that will result from us tackling Covid will itself generate a public health challenge of major proportions. Unemployment and inequality’s relationship with both physical and mental health is something that public health experts will know about.

Secondly the actions we are taking which is causing the economic downturn has not eliminated the virus, merely containing it. So if we continue with that threat in the background, but if we take the wrong relaxation in the wrong way it could mean we risk a resurgence of the virus, certainly costing lives but also bringing in more measures that would hurt the economy. So we’ve got this kind of arm lock on us and not even getting rid of the virus. Thirdly neither this virus nor the actions we must take to control it are indiscriminate. There was a little bit of mythology that we’re all equals because the Prime Minister got Covid-19. The virus itself is disproportionately hitting poor people – those people living in the most cramped conditions the least likely to be able to be socially distanced and those that are most likely to have pre-existing medical conditions because of their poverty. But then the actions we are having to take to manage Covid with the negative economic impact will again disproportionally affect the least able to afford it, those living on the economic margins, those needing to use foodbanks and those signed on to Universal Credit , those who didn’t have a big bank of personal savings to see them through a rainy day when the work dries up, those small businesses who survive month to month.

These people are going to carry the price for this and these are wicked challenges that we face as the world, certainly as a county and as the city of Bristol. And I think we must also recognise the scale of the political challenge that this brings with it: Unemployment, Food shortages, a real test for our civic cohesion and the potential for unrest. A growing demand for public services while local governments are being stretched and dare I say opportunistic right wing activism in the background taking advantage of the factors to sow in further discord in our society. This is the challenge that we are having to take on.

So we do have to come to terms with the sheer scale of it. There is not going to be a project by project solution. This is about a comprehensive assessment and replanning of who we are as Bristol.

SECTION 2 THE ECONOMY

 So to talk on the economy, the World Economic Forum is warning that:

“The shock to the global economy is faster and more severe than the 2008 global financial crisis and even the great depression of 1929. In those two previous episodes, stock markets collapsed by up to 50% or more, credit markets froze up massive bankruptcies followed, unemployment rates soared above 10% and GDP contracted at an annualised rate of 10% or more But all of this took around three years to play out. In the current crisis similarly dire macroeconomic and financial outcomes have materialised in three weeks.”

NATIONALLY- the Office Budget Responsibility estimates GDP could contract by 35% in the second quarter which is incredibly significant.

The economists David Blanchflower and David Bell – say we are already in a depression, with the manufacturing rates at an all time low, productivity way down and they say the collapse in economic activity looks to be 10 times faster than the Recession of 2007-09.

The CIPS UK purchasing index to the 27th March shows a record fall in and employment has fallen at the fastest rate since June 2009.

In the US 6.6million workers have filed for unemployment insurance since the crisis began. It was said during the 1929 Great Depression, when the US sneezes, the world catches a cold, including the UK. It’s as true today as it was then – the impacts on the British economy of any US slowdown could be immense.

The UK doesn’t have speedy or accurate measures in place for the labour market but the steep rise in applications for universal credit is one clear guide of what’s happening in this country.

Blanchflower and Bell have suggested that unemployment could reach 20%, or 6 million people.

BRISTOL

Business West have done a survey of businesses that tells us:

88% of firms are concerned for their future And only 11% of small businesses with 5-9 staff believe they could cope for 6 months

When we talk about the “economy”, this is what we have to take into account. When we talk about the importance of the economy we don’t mean disembodied , predatory, multinational companies stretching across many industries without regard for welfare of the people. That has been a part of our economic development of the past and present. But it also includes many small businesses, sole traders providing jobs and putting food on the table so protecting those businesses is protecting our economy. Getting our economy moving again is absolutely essential

Business West say:

  • Three quarters of business had seen decreased orders and sales;
  • Over half had lost business due to cancelled contracts or orders;
  • And half had reported cash flow issues
  • Over a third of businesses had already taken action to cut costs including, reducing working hours, reducing salaries and cutting back on contracted workers.

UNEMPLOYMENT

In terms of unemployment it is currently 3.9% across Bristol –  is 10,100 people (the lowest of the core cities).

If we got to 10% it would be 26,000. if we reach 20% as Blanchflower and Bell suggest we could, that would be over 50,000 unemployed.

And keep in mind that would not land evenly across Bristol. Areas like Knowle West, Lawrence Hill Southmead and Hillfields will take the disproportionate hit of the economic slowdown. So when we’re talking about the average rates of unemployment certain areas will be well in excess of those average rates on top of the already existing inequalities that they face. This is the challenge that we face as a city

GETTING BRISTOL MOVING IN THE RIGHT WAY IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

So we’ve got to get Bristol moving again, we have to survive as an economy and then we have to start developing our economy again. But we want to be clear that we are not trying to create a carbon copy of what we had before. Doing the same is not an option. We want to rebuild the right kind of economy. We want one that tackles inequality, delivers inclusion and wraps itself around our environmental and sustainable strategies.

In fact, the economy recovery task group being led by are one city economy board (co-chaired by Cllr Cheney and James Durie) have been factoring in how we can use the UN Sustainable Development Goals as the framework for that economic survival and recovery plan which really is a progressive way of thinking about our city’s future

Next week we are talking with leading city thinkers including from our universities, think tanks and international guests to talk about the scale of how we reinvent Bristol as one that has a lower impact on the planet, is more inclusive and more sustainable and resilient in the face of future shocks. We are perfectly placed to lead a new economic recovery. While it is crucial we return people to their jobs, and ensure not just that manufacturing and productivity is back up but that we create a market for people to sell into.

And with the Western Gateway we can lead on that. We have built into that new economic vehicle a focus on inclusive and decarbonised economic development. In our Western Gateway prospectus we identified three key areas of localised growth that could we can lead the UK and even the world.

Advanced manufacturing and engineering

Creative, digital and cyberfinancial services

And we are putting our green infrastructure projects – sustainable housing, mass rapid transit, decarbonising waste and energy – on the list of flagship regeneration projects the government should guarantee and work through to get the economy moving again, as they have the YTL Bristol Arena.

 THE CHALLENGE:

Cannot dismiss the economy. The economy is not a sideshow. It is not secondary. It’s what will determine so many of our relationships as a society. It’s not a case of whether we get the economy moving again but what we make of it. We will support businesses and create jobs, rebuilding the right type of economy, tackling inequalities where nobody is left behind. There is no going back but we are moving forward as a city.

Food Poverty – a sad reality of life

Today’s blog comes from Andy Street, Chair of Feeding Bristol

Food poverty is a sad reality of 21st Century Britain. The proliferation of foodbanks and community projects focussing on food provision, alongside increasing numbers of children on free school meals (currently around 14,500 in Bristol) speak into that fact. In 2017 Feeding Bristol was established with a mission to see no one in the city go hungry. As an umbrella organisation the charity works to coordinate and support the wide network of community and voluntary groups providing food to those in need, working in partnership with the Council, business, and the charitable and faith sectors across the city.

We’re committed to driving systemic change to increase food security across all social and cultural communities of Bristol – ultimately striving for ‘Zero Hunger’. Improving the efficiency and effectiveness of immediate provision for those in need, and influencing long-term local economic and national policy changes that aim to improve food security of all Bristolians.

Last summer (that seems a long time ago!) we ran our first Healthy Holidays Project, which saw over 50,000 meals delivered in various ways to children and their families who were at risk of suffering from holiday hunger.  While Feeding Bristol raised the funds needed, it was FareShare South West that provided the vast majority of the raw ingredients, alongside the massive job of sourcing, storing and delivering the food to all sorts of locations.  It took an army of volunteers, provided by a large number of the city’s big businesses, who kindly gave us their CSR hours to, help prepare and deliver the food.  We also received food donations from a large number of catering companies and wholesalers. It was amazing to see the city come together in an incredible way – an extraordinary experience!

And here we now are, facing a crisis on a global scale, and that spirit of partnership and collaboration – the Bristol spirit – is coming to the fore yet again. Sadly thousands of people are facing food poverty as the impact of furlough, redundancy and increased reliance on Universal Credit becomes a reality. The pandemic has tested Bristol’s well-established and resilient food network, but emergency planning led by Feeding Bristol is underway to ensure the inevitable increase in demand over the coming weeks and months can be met.

The response has been amazing: In the past two weeks alone, foodbanks have seen referrals of residents struggling to make ends meet tripling; FareShare South West have doubled the volume of food coming into their warehouse, distributing food to over 100 projects across the city, and opening up a temporary depot at the Ashton Gate stadium to accommodate more food; four new emergency foodbanks have opened to add to the seven already in place; the FOOD Club network has grown from five to 16, all supporting 50 families each; pop-up food distributors run by closed pubs and restaurants, and volunteers from businesses and community organisations, are all adding to Bristol’s food response.

Of course we’re only five weeks or so into this crisis, and it is inevitable that demand will continue to increase, but Bristol does have a resilient response in place, and together we’re committed to making sure that no-one should go hungry in this city. It’s a big task, but if we all pull together we can do it.

Supporting Bristol’s businesses

We know that the crisis we find ourselves in will have wide ranging impacts on our city, not just in relation to health, but for the economy as well. While it’s vital that we support out health and care sector so they can continue to save lives and support those most in need, we also need to think about what kind of world, and what kind of city, we want to find ourselves in when this is all over.

We recognise the importance of small businesses to Bristol and know that many of these have been hit hard. That’s why we’re committed to ensuring businesses are supported through this uncertain time. This support comes in many forms and I’d encourage you to visit our website to see how we can help.

The Chancellor recently announced new business rate relief to many businesses to alleviate some of the effects of the Coronavirus. Cash grants are also available to eligible small businesses.

This critical support will be funded by the government and administered through local authorities. As a council, we have received approximately £88 million in allocated funds from central government to pay small business grants, with an estimated 8,375 businesses eligible in our city alone.

As of Wednesday (15 April), Bristol had distributed £43.5 million of grants to an estimated 3,298 businesses – a phenomenal effort.

This means we’ve distributed more than 49% of our allocated grant funding to Bristol businesses so far, which is the best performance in the West of England, and we’ve had early indications that we’re doing well compared to other core cities too.

We know we need to be agile and adapt quickly to respond to the challenges that face us and continue to deliver for the city.

We have been allocating and awarding grants in age order and the team is working hard to keep on top of this. To manage an unprecedented volume of applications and enquiries, we have increased staffing of the department by more than 400%.

Complex cases may take longer to process if we need to gather more information and there are a small number of businesses that may have been waiting longer than two weeks for their application to be processed. Although the vast majority have received funds quickly, I’d like to thank businesses for their patience.

We’re pleased that more than 5,000 businesses have now applied for this support. However, around 30% of eligible Bristol firms are yet to do so. I’d encourage all those who may be able to benefit from the scheme to check if you’re eligible and make an application here.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to recognise that processing this support is a huge task and to thank the staff who have been working tirelessly to deliver for Bristol.

We will continue to be there for businesses and for the city.

When this is over, we will still be the thriving and dynamic city that attracts so many to live, work and study here. And perhaps we will appreciate our local businesses just a little bit more.

Bristol City Council is carrying out a short survey of the city’s businesses and organisations to gain a more detailed understanding of the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Any information you provide will help inform future business support we might develop, either as a council, or with partner organisations. You can access the survey here, and please do circulate among your networks. Thank you to those who have already contributed.

In the Arena

This week we received a letter from the Secretary Of State for communities, confirming that there was no intention to call in the planning decision on the YTL Bristol Arena.  

 

This means the planning decisions made by the development committees in Bristol and South Gloucestershire are upheld.

 

In simple terms, YTL now have the go ahead to build the Bristol Arena. Their plan, as submitted, is for a 17,000 seater arena in Filton, Bristol. The arena will be the third biggest in the UK and attract major acts and sporting events. The arena will be the most environmentally friendly arena built, with the submitted plan revealing solar power and rainwater used for plumbing. It will be one of the most accessible in the world. On top of these achievements, it will be built in an existing building, massively reducing carbon output, nod to the city’s aerospace heritage, look amazing and deliver a world class package for visitors.  

 

Take a look at the YTL video here and you cannot fail to be excited. This is quite simply, massive news for Bristol.   

 

Several administrations have talked about the need for an arena since the 1980’s but none have delivered. The most high profile of these was the planned Temple Island arena that was flawed and would never have been built. That planned arena was too small to attract the bigger acts, would have been the most expensive arena ever built in the world per square meter and was placed in the worst possible location for congestion, pollution and safety – ever increasing concerns in the 21st century.  

 

The entire cost, and all of the risk, of that development rested on the council – that’s you, the tax payer. That is why, despite the political bluster, that arena would never have been built.  

 

Too often, politicians don’t take council tax payers money seriously and in this case, the costs had spiralled out of control and the risks far higher than any politician had been ready to admit. The Temple Island proposal had been pitched at £75m but by the time I came to office was already heading north of £150m.

 

Because I know many of you struggle to pay your council tax and balance that bill along with rent, the need to put food on the table and pay the electricity bill, I do take your money seriously. That’s why, despite the commentary of some who haven’t contended with the finances and practical realities of the city centre location, I took the decision to put Temple Island to better use and also see the risk and cost of the Bristol arena passed into the private sector, while getting a bigger and better arena in the process. Bristol City Council can focus on building homes and running adult social care, rather than gambling hundreds of millions of your pounds on high risk ventures in the wrong location.

 

I am grateful to YTL’s entrepreneurialism. Arenas are often built by public funds because there are few takers in the private sector due to the amount of risk. With the YTL Bristol Arena, the private company is taking all the risk. This isn’t the case of us handing profit to a private operator as some like to profess, but the city getting a stunning venue at minimal cost and no risk to the public purse.

 

The YTL arena will be built with a train station on its doorstep to support train travel, an advanced transport plan that enhances bus travel and cycling, and in the not too distant future, an underground stop. As part of our agreement and on top of their substantial development costs, YTL will plough over £5 million of private investment into the local area and even with supporting infrastructure, there will be a cost to public funds of no more than £1.7 million, shared between the combined authority, Bristol and South Gloucestershire.

 

The arena had a dry run in a temporary venue on the same site last year, with Massive Attack as the first act. While the gig itself received mixed reviews, the venue and the transport arrangements got unanimous plaudits, with the Bristol Post splashing the headline “Massive Success”. As many tickets were sold in South Bristol and further south as were sold in North Bristol and Gloucestershire, proving that the venue can be accessed across the region and that “if you build it, they will come”.

 

 YTL can now start to properly plan to build. Their strapline is “Let’s make memories that last a lifetime” and with the promise of the arena being in the top three venues in the UK, Bristolians will be able to make memories that have been denied to us for decades. For the current generation and our children, this venue promises top class memories on our doorstep, without the need to travel to London, Birmingham or Cardiff.  

 

We really are delivering for Bristol.  

Clean Air Zone Plans – COVID Update

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an enormous impact on everyday life in this country. While we deal with the immediate public health crisis, we know that the most far ranging effect will be felt in our economy.

Despite the incredible, and welcome, state intervention in our economy, the completely necessary social distancing measures adopted by most major countries mean that businesses large and small in Bristol have seen significant impact. We are already in a Covid provoked recession. The next few months we will nervously watch the markets and indexes for signs of a global depression, almost as fearfully as we watch statistics and graphs showing the spread of the disease now.

During this period of extreme uncertainty the people and businesses in Bristol are understandably very concerned about their futures. This is why despite this immediate challenge, we must look at the recovery, and our clean air plans.

We understand the moral, environmental and legal imperative to achieve clean air compliance. We have always been determined to do so while protecting the poorest in our city. We have been prepared to work with government, give national leadership on this issue and shown our determination to deliver clean air for Bristol with our proposals. And we remain committed to delivering clean air for the city which will improve the quality of life for all the people in Bristol. However the circumstances have changed significantly since we submitted out outline plans last year.

On 13th March 2020, following months of conversations with civil servants we were formally given direction from Rebecca Pow MP Secretary of State for the Environment.  This included agreement for initial funding of £12m to facilitate us developing the implementation and contract arrangements for a Clean Air Zone in Bristol.

As part of the direction given, we were also asked to submit further evidence on additional measures – the proposed small area diesel ban, and as an alternative a small area CAZ D, and a full business case by September 2020 so the scheme could be implemented by March 2021, as has always been planned.

Under normal circumstances my team would be able to meet these dates, however these are not normal times.

Recognising that Covid19 has changed many aspects of life, I wrote to Grant Shapps, the Secretary for Transport, on the 27th March asking for the government to seek urgent cross government reassessment of our proposed traffic clean air zone.

During this time of crisis, I urged the government to reconsider timescales for the whole programme during this period of uncertainty. I do not think that now is an appropriate time to directly engage with the business community and people of Bristol on how we develop appropriate mitigations to reduce the impacts CAZ may have for them.

I have suggested, as a pragmatic approach, that we continue with the planning and development work but then stop short of implementing the scheme, and look at the programme implementation times.  This will allow Government to work with us to rethink how our scheme might be delivered to meet the imperative to achieve clean air in a way that will protect businesses from being further financially penalised. Improving air quality is a crucial challenge, for our future as a sustainable, resilient and inclusive city, and so is restarting our economy too.

I am pleased that the government’s Joint Air Quality Unit (JAQU) have already reached out to acknowledge that local government is facing significant challenges because of this crisis and that timelines will need to be flexible. I welcome their commitment to an ongoing dialogue as and when we emerge from this immediate emergency. They have now issued an initial blanket change of direction, so that the other few cities who were ahead of us in the process have been instructed to slow down to look again.

We will continue to work through the detail of the Direction and its potential implications with JAQU, and I am committed to working to achieve legal levels of nitrogen dioxide in our city. I am also determined to support our city’s people, communities and economy recover in an inclusive and sustainable way.

Our economic prosperity and response to the COVID-19 crisis must put all people at the heart of what we do, enabling us to thrive as a city improving the well-being of all of our residents and businesses #wearebristol

Free school meals during the Easter break

cllr-anna-keen-5 Today’s blog comes from Cllr Anna Keen, Cabinet member for Education and Skills.

For many children, yesterday was the first day of the two-week Easter break. We know that when the school holidays come around, the issue of holiday hunger becomes particularly serious for many of our city’s families.  Parents of children are left struggling to afford the food they need to buy.

Around 1.3 million children in England qualify for free school meals and in Bristol over 14,000 of our children qualify.  For many, lunch at school is their only hot meal of the day. In some cases, it is their only meal.

The work already being done by Feeding Bristol and its partner organisations during holiday periods demonstrates just how vital the supply of food is to ensure children have access to nutritious and balanced meals – even during the holidays.

In recent weeks we’ve seen the rapid closure of schools and social distancing measures being put in place to manage the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). The UK Government also set up a national scheme that provides weekly shopping vouchers to allow families to continue to access meals while they stay at home – which was quickly rolled out across Bristol last week.

In these unprecedented times, our schools continue to operate throughout the holidays, providing childcare for those who require it, including our key workers who are keeping vital services going. Coupled with this, many families are facing huge economic uncertainty and are unable to easily access basic food supplies.

Despite this huge need, the Government made a last minute decision to not fund any of the meal vouchers over the Easter break.

The Mayor, along with the leaders of Leeds and Birmingham councils, wrote to the Secretary of State for Education last week, urging him to rapidly reverse this decision and give our schools and families the help they needed.

Over the weekend came welcome news that the Government had reversed its decision, and confirmed that the voucher scheme would continue to be supported over the Easter holidays. This provides schools across Bristol with the vital financial support required and I’m glad the calls of city leaders were heard.

However, this has been the latest in a series of late decision-making, leaving schools and families with new issues to deal with at an already unsettled time. Yet again, school leaders have responded with speed, compassion and professionalism to support their pupils and families.

At this time of crisis, I would urge the Government to do all they can to support the most vulnerable in our society, and keep the impact on our young people at the forefront of decision-making.