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.

Supporting small businesses from the Outset

A few weeks ago, I accepted the ‘Best Overall Small Business Friendly Council’ award from the regional branch of the Federation of Small Business (FSB) on behalf of Bristol City Council. This week, I want to highlight more of the work being done to support small businesses, start-ups and entrepreneurs in Bristol.

Last week at Filwood Green Business Park I attended the South Bristol Business Breakfast. Discussion amongst the 25 or so businesses there centred on planned workspace developments in Hengrove, Filwood Broadway and Cater Road Business Park. We also spoke of a new Enterprise Support and Workspace Project, starting soon with funding from the European Union and West of England Combined Authority (WECA). I’m looking attend similar events in other parts of the city.

Yesterday was a Celebration of Entrepreneurship event, organised by Outset Bristol to mark ten years of their support to local businesses. Bristol City Council has worked closely with Outset over those ten years, helping people to set up new businesses and supporting existing businesses to grow.

Over its ten years, it has been clear that Outset has a real passion and commitment for promoting an enterprise culture across the city, advancing the social and geographic reach of support programmes.

Recent research by the Black South West Network (BSWN) set out to map the BAME business community in Bristol and to understand the barriers to growth and sustainability that it faces. The main findings of this research identified a range of barriers to BAME enterprise. Addressing these barriers, including access to finance, support services, bureaucracy and networking, will form part of actions for a growing and inclusive economy. The City Fund is also looking at supporting entrepreneurship in deprived communities.

The latest joint project between us and Outset, has helped over 30 new businesses to set up in just 18 months and has a focus on our city’s more disadvantaged neighbourhoods and people, promoting entrepreneurship as a contributor to inclusive growth. I met Ellie Webb, one of the entrepreneurs helped by Outset, founder of Caleño Drinks. Ellie spotted a market opportunity for non-alcoholic drinks and has now launched Caleño – a tropical non-alcoholic spirit. Supported by Outset since 2017, Ellie now employs people, has the support of a major drinks supplier and Sainsbury’s will be stocking Caleño next month.

A significant part of Bristol’s economic strength is its spirit of enterprise and the city is widely recognised for being a good place to start a business. This diversity is something we can trade off as part of our own offer to draw other business here. A large part of our successful pitch to Channel 4 was our authentic and vibrant enterprise ecosystem. Bristol also has a higher ‘business survival rate’ than any other major UK city. But we know we have to continue working to improve Bristol’s enterprise environment, especially in pursuit of inclusive growth, as well as supporting more established businesses to provide the decent jobs Bristolians deserve.

Time to Change

This week, Bristol City Council will pledge to become a ‘Time to Change’ employer and join the growing social movement supporting people to open about mental health.

We want to ensure we have an environment which supports colleagues to open up; to talk and to listen. Becoming a Time to Change employer is a sign of our commitment to this and puts mental health and wellbeing top of the agenda in City Hall.

Time to Change is run by the charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness and by signing the employer pledge the council is committing to change the way we all think and act about mental health in the workplace. The announcement comes ahead of Time to Talk Day (7 Feb) a national awareness day encouraging people to have conversations about mental health and challenge stigma.

Behind the pledge sits an action plan to set out how we will achieve this and how we’ll make sure we’re embedding mental health into our policies to best support colleagues. Practical things we will be doing include creating an environment where colleagues feel more able to discuss mental health concerns, providing information to managers on mental health and working collaboratively with trade unions, staff-led groups and external expertise to hear voices from all employee groups.

We know that this is one part of the picture and mental health is an issue that needs to be looked at from many different angles. That’s why we’re working on a 10 year programme focused on prevention called Thrive Bristol. BCC has also signed the Public Health England Prevention Concordat for Better Mental Health demonstrating its commitment to join the national drive to take action to prevent mental health problems, promote good mental health and build resilient communities.

I want to see other city institutions come on board and pledge to this too, as a city wide commitment to better mental health. This reflects the approach we have taken with our pledges on the UNITE Construction Charter, our Living Wage accreditation and recently the Dying To Work charter. These set out the benchmark we want to see for employers in the city and hope other can follow our lead.

Signing the Time to Change employer pledge is another mark of our commitment to putting mental health on the same footing as physical health.  This is an issue we can’t afford to ignore and we need to create a workplace culture where we are all confident to open up the conversation around mental health.

Council Tax Reduction Scheme & Empty Property Premium

At this afternoon’s cabinet meeting we reaffirmed our commitment to the £40 million Council Tax Reduction Scheme, the last of its kind in the core cities, which provides a discount of up to 100% for the poorest households in Bristol.

In a continuing era of austerity, where the government continues to increase the gap between rich and poor and look away from the increasing difficulties for our most vulnerable citizens, I was really proud to take the decision to maintain this benefit which maintains the current levels of support to households on a low income.

Keeping the reduction scheme also reduces the risk of increased debt to the council for households on a low income, an increased concern as the switch to Universal Credit really starts to bite for many people.

Our aim remains working towards Bristol being an inclusive and accessible economy for everyone

Council tax reduction and exemption is provided to around 10,000 pensioners and students across Bristol. The reduction scheme provides support to people of working age and around a further 25,000 households.

As we would expect, single parents, disabled people, members of black and minority ethnic communities, and women rely dis-proportionately on benefit from the scheme. Again we know that more people are affected in less affluent areas with more than 9,300 working-age households in receipt of the CTRS, from just five of Bristol’s 34 wards.  These are Hartcliffe & Withywood, Lawrence Hill, Avonmouth & Lawrence Weston, Filwood, and Ashley. 3 of these wards are amongst the most deprived wards in the city.

Today’s meeting also saw plans to increase the rate of council tax on long-term empty properties to 300%, having already scrapped the 50% discount in place under the previous administration.

Cabinet approved proposals to increase council tax on long-term empty properties – defined as being unoccupied and substantially unfurnished for at least two years – to up to 300% of their Council tax. The premium will not apply in certain circumstances, for instance where an owner has gone into hospital or care home, has moved to another residence to receive or provide care, has passed away.

We estimate this will raise an additional £189,000 over the next financial year. Even more importantly it will help encourage people to bring more of the 291 domestic properties which have been empty and unfurnished for at least two years back into use as homes. Given the housing crisis and the consequences it has, we need to use every available tool at our disposal to make sure empty houses become homes.

These two policies demonstrate our progressive approach to taxation in a way that no other core city has achieved.