Listen In

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We opened our latest batch of consultations with the city today, in a well-attended meeting in Southmead.  

These included looking at our future plans for libraries, public toilet provision, school crossing patrols, neighbourhood partnerships and community links.  Along with my deputy mayors Asher Craig and Craig Cheney and cabinet member Helen Holland, we explained why we were proposing the changes to services.  In a lively session, adroitly chaired by BCFM/Ujima OneLove Breakfast show anchor, Pat Hart, we listened to the views of the communities from North West Bristol.  These ranged from questions on cutting grass in parks to a possible return to the world of ‘spending a penny’ in public toilets or more likely again, asking the community to help find solutions. 

The consultation sessions are rolling out to communities near you and you can sign up to come along here.

Of course, the sessions are another conversation about the potential ‘cuts’ and I won’t repeat the well-rehearsed arguments about the budget or explain again how I am taking the argument to Westminster for more funds.

One public question that stood out for me was “why are you asking us our views again?’ and to be fair, it showed great commitment to attend and ask that question but most people were keen to express how pleased they were to get the opportunity.

We have to find solutions to the city’s challenges and all of us have to step up.  So if you have ideas or solutions, please come along and share them with us.

 

ACE News?

Arts Council England has announced who it will fund as National Portfolio Organisations over the coming four years – and its great news for Bristol.

Our city will see over £27.5m invested in arts, culture and museums in the city from 2018 to 2022 plus an additional £3m set aside to boost Bristol’s visual arts scene. In total that’s a potential 12% increase in Bristol funding.

This investment is positive recognition of our international reputation as a capital for culture and a place where creativity, industry and originality are encouraged. We pride ourselves on that reputation, it sets us apart from the rest of the world and reflects the diversity upon which our communities are built.

This money, along with the council’s investment and funding from many other areas, helps build one of the largest culture economies outside of London. Yet its benefits – jobs, education, opportunity, investment – are not felt equally across our city. That’s something we have to change.

Arts Council England’s announcement comes just as my Cabinet and I endorsed a new citywide cultural strategy that has at its heart the determination to ensure the benefits of that economy are felt across the whole of Bristol. Working with national organisations such as Arts Council England and local organisations across culture, health, education and business we will ensure the cultural economy works for everyone in the city.

Whilst there have been some winners, there have also been some who have missed out. For those who haven’t received funding this time I share my sympathies and hope that they can continue their work. News like this is hard, I know, we get it from government all the time. What I must be clear on is that the council cannot pick up the gap in funding and be the funder of last resort. Where we can help we will help but my challenge to the city is to reflect on how we can all support these organisations without the need of relying on council funding that no longer exists.

 

Annual statement to Full Council

In tonight’s Extraordinary meeting of Full Council I will be presenting my annual statement – you can get a preview of what I’ll be talking about in the below video:

 

Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, Annual General Address Speech in full

I have taken this opportunity to reflect on what my administration has delivered, the work we are doing to prepare for the next few years and to take stock of the things we haven’t yet been able to do.

My first speech came as I barely had my feet under the table. Having made that speech it soon became apparent that the financial situation was not as robust as I was allowed to believe. As a direct result I have needed to revisit some of the things we thought we could do in this first year.

That experience highlighted the need to fix the council and I have spent part of my first year ensuring the council is more responsive to the political leadership and to the wider needs of the city.  The Bundred report was a key part of that, highlighting the collective failure of leadership in achieving past saving and in how the council managed the process.

My first budget was carried in the light of that report. We decided to make it an interim budget to give us the space needed to build a medium-term financial plan and a robust financial system to ensure we don’t face these kind of problems in the future.

One year on, I believe my administration is driving forwards, delivering on our key pledges and the manifesto commitments the people of Bristol voted for.

I want to start this evening with some thanks. I want to thank our city partners, my cabinet and all the people working with us to tackle today’s challenges and plan for a better future for Bristol.

No Mayor, no leader nor the whole council can deliver for a city working alone. We need friends. I have spent my first year building relationships and collaborating with the city itself and it is already proving its worth. Many people have come forward to work with us to meet the city’s challenges.

I want to offer a particular thank you to the Labour group, my colleagues who sit in this chamber on behalf of the Labour party. They had the courage to get elected in the face of austerity, to carry a difficult budget for the city in 2017, facing up to the responsibility that comes with leadership. Together we have squared up to the challenges that we inherited and continue to be heaped upon us, while others have stepped aside. You showed real city leadership and you are now the team delivering on our manifesto. Each one of you now has responsibility for one or more of our manifesto commitments, becoming accountable for delivery.  You don’t just talk, you lead and do.  Thank you.

The government has set out it’s stall over the last seven years to shrink the footprint of city government and it is clear, that for as long as they hold on to power, they will continue to do so.

As a result we are dominated by headlines about cuts and protests. And that is understandable and we must deal with that. But we should not fall into the simplistic world where it’s all we talk about. It is crucial to remember the council still has responsibility for spending £1.2billion in the city and is the biggest provider of services in Bristol. We are not just about managing and opposing cuts. Our job and the budget process is about making sure we spend public money in the most impactful and cost effective ways.

The people who access council services are of course often among the poorest and most vulnerable citizens in the city. That doesn’t mean they need people telling them what they need. They know they are at the brunt of this government’s myopic commitment to austerity and they know where the blame lies. Nonetheless, they wouldn’t thank me for walking away from the challenge of building effective relationships with partners to get the investment we need and take up the role of merely shouting from the side-lines.

I respect the people who are losing services and want to protest and need to have their voice heard. I am listening and doing my best to work with communities to find solutions. But I say clearly to the people who live out their existence on social media and call for me to turn the council into a protest movement  – now understand this and don’t be confused – I am against austerity and say so in Westminster clearly and loudly, most recently only a few days ago.

But anger at cuts must be directed to the government, the people who actually reduce the council’s income and shrink our positive impact on the city. Railing against the council may be personally gratifying and may win some online profile, but it doesn’t deliver for poor people.  It is a sure thing however that walking away from the challenge of setting a legal budget would be a total abdication of responsibility. The calls to set an illegal budget is the easy option, birthed in irresponsibility and patronises the hundreds of thousands of people in Bristol who pay their council tax and want a democratically elected, financially competent authority, who want a provision of services but also want a growing economy and a better, thriving city.  If we don’t balance our budget we get headlines but we sacrifice all these things.

And I want to hold a mirror up here because we have to face up to the fundamental challenge posed by race, class, gender and power. These are the defining features of the modern world. There are people holding politics to a standard for equality and inclusion they themselves are not delivering. The challenge is particularly stark for those social movements that claim to be at the forefront of progressive politics. The worldview I bring to this challenge is grounded in the Bristol my family and I grew up in, not one I read about or discussed in a university seminar.

In the general election cities across the UK rejected austerity and demanded investment. This was particularly true in Bristol where we returned four Labour MPs to work with a Labour Mayor and Labour majority council. I look forward to us working with our MPs as we identify the best way to pressure a government that is lacking credibility. We want an end to the hopelessness of austerity and a return to investment and hope. And we want Westminster to understand that our cities don’t only need more money and power to shape what happens inside our boundaries. We also want to shape context within which we live – and I will lead that argument nationally and internationally with the core cities and with the global parliament of Mayors.

For those who want to express criticism and spread negativity to build their own political brand let me be clear – I really am for the many, not the few. And the many know where the blame lies. And the many, just like our own party leader, want city leaders to do the best they can.

Some want to win headlines and build their social media following – we want to build the city: by building houses, building schools, building communities and building lives.

In the name of getting real stuff done I have called on the core cities, who are the drivers of the national economy, to work together on taking a joint approach. We will jointly challenge the government to admit the full cost of the cuts and to win investment for our cities, which, when it comes to social care and looking after our most vulnerable people, are at breaking point.

I have a straightforward approach

1) We will take our responsibilities seriously, manage services, and deliver a financially competent local authority,

2) We will work with city partners to grow a sustainable, inclusive economy that provides decent jobs and opportunity for all,

3) We will work with cities in the UK to take the argument to government for a better, fairer deal

Protesting has its place but we also need a clear, thought out, alternative vision and strategy for cities. You won’t grow a mass movement without solutions. People need something to believe in beyond something to protest against. “No cuts” is an important message but is not an end state. Public services are a means to an end, and we have to be clear what that end is. That’s why, as core city leaders, we are working on our own green paper for cities and set out what cities must become for their populations – we will argue that case with government, along with our strong Labour opposition in parliament and be clear about what we need.

And now, as it is the annual statement, I want to spend a few minutes highlighting what my administration has delivered to date:

I obviously haven’t got time to list them all, but they include:

  • signed off a devolution Deal and created the West of England combined authority securing long term delivery on housing and infrastructure,
  • reviewed the 2016 elections to make improvements in local democracy and ongoing work on voting registration,
  • are building a heat network across the city,
  • overhauled sporting development in the city,
  • were the first council in the UK to ban the box for ex-offenders,
  • changed the council leadership team,
  • we completed work on the gender and race pay gap,
  • are bringing investment to the city while opening up the city to refugees,
  • changed the decision making pathway of the council to reflect political leadership and direction, delivered on promises on green capital,
  • And initiated a campaign to clean up Bristol.

We have established a city office, bringing together city partners from the private, public and voluntary sectors, including trade unions and charities. We’ve launched major pieces of work on

  • Homelessness
  • Quality Work experience
  • And tackling hunger

We are rapidly delivering on our pledge to tackle the city’s housing crisis.

We have

  • Taken back land,
  • Recovered empty properties,
  • Signed an ethical lettings charter,
  • Given housing priority to women escaping domestic violence abuse,
  • Established the big housing conversation to prioritise tenants voices
  • Chased owners on stalled sites,
  • And brought new developers into Bristol,
  • and we have worked with all developers to build and deliver housing with a good ratio of affordable homes, including right in the heart of the city.

The agreement at Alderman Moore’s to build houses for sale to fund building council housing is a financial model that is truly ground breaking.

We

  • made city recommendations on Brexit,
  • are working with the city on an innovative project to co-ordinate corporate social spend to create a city fund ,
  • and are channelling ethically motivated investment for community led projects. This is all part of developing a new approach in the city, reducing powerlessness and dependence and recognising that the council’s offer will have to change in the face of shrinking finances.

We are taking an asset based approach to city governance working with our community’s strengths rather than repeatedly reminding them of their weaknesses and describing what people are not.

Transport remains a priority. We have

  • given local councillors the chance to review RPZs ,
  • stopped enforcement against blue badge holders,
  • we have also started working with key stake-holders, including bus operators and taxi drivers, with whom we held an industry conference this year,
  • and are close to completing MetroBus.
  • We are also making progress as we drive to improve people flow, making improvements to our road network, prioritising public transport but also improving the road experience for all users.
  • Changed road layouts in the city centre have improved times to get across the city centre and changes to Temple Gate will speed up traffic in a heavily congested area.
  • I am also launching a ‘no idle roadworks policy’ with better controlled roadworks, and opportunities for citizens to report idle times.

But, of course, we need a bigger solution. I have recently launched a congestion task group that will look at quick wins as well as take a more strategic look at our transport solutions and air quality.   Bristol is the only major city without an effective mass transit system. We are looking imaginatively at exciting possibilities, learning from around the world. More on that in the near future.

It is also worth mentioning we are in the process of working with the fire service to check every one of our tower blocks.

And finally, I want to comment on this room, and on the politics in the city. I set up a cross party cabinet and offered collaborative working, so we can all work together to help improve the city. I’m grateful to the people in my cabinet for their hard work and indeed to the leader of the opposition, who accepted my offer to come and work with us on the congestion task group. My offer of collaboration remains. I again ask all party leaders to bring forward what they want to achieve for the city.

The idea of getting rid of elections by thirds was to stop the permanent electioneering that undermined collective action and held the city back. I can understand why you want to promote your party in 2019, but surely we can get things done together, for a couple of years.

But I’m not going to wait forever. If you just want to play at opposition fill your boots, and we will just crack on — we want to put solutions on the table and get things done.

I finish by saying to the whole city –I am ferociously ambitious for Bristol, we’re facing massive challenges but we are also achieving and will continue to do so. I am excited and looking forward to working with you in the next year and those beyond.

Green Paper

Over the last year I have been working with the leadership of the Core Cities with the aim of upping the power of the collective representations we make to government.

We are all facing the challenge of managing a shrinking financial settlement in the face of increasing demand for our services. We know we must come together.

As a result we have agreed to jointly produce a Green Paper for Cities. This paper will set out what we need. It will make the case for investment in our cities, both the physical assets such as homes and transport, and the populations through services such as children’s mental health and education. It will set out the argument that disinvesting in our cities (austerity) is not only resulting in social injustice but is a false economy. Many of the services and interventions local government are unable to invest in are services that produce economic benefit and/or reduce the needs for more expensive services in years to come. The first draft will be ready by early July and we will refine it over the summer.

We have agreed to book a day in Westminster in early September where we will present the paper to Ministers and Shadow Ministers. This is our opportunity to define the agenda for cities and set the tone for the Westminster – City relationship over the rest of this parliament. We are talking with both Ministers and Shadow Ministers because we need them all to understand and be on board.

And we want to up the ante on city investment and power. We are not only interested in increasing our ability to determine what happens inside our boundaries. We’ll be arguing that cities need the platform to shape the context within which they operate. We need to be able to influence national and international policy on areas ranging from migration to Brexit. Tht is the fundamental political shift we need.

 

Westminster Cuts

I was in Westminster for the last two days, calling for more powers and funding for cities as well as seeking investment in Bristol. Speaking at the Social Policy Forum and at a town planning event  where I argued that cuts were damaging our citizens today and also for the long term, by making planning difficult.

There is a local story today that I am calling people to do more than shout from the side-lines and some seem vexed by that approach. This is my view – I feel strongly that people need to help find solutions and I feel that as strongly as I feel that the government must reverse the cuts and give cities funds and powers to grow an inclusive economy as well as protect it’s most vulnerable citizens.  My own journey into policy began with the same challenge. Simon Woolley of Operation Black Vote challenged me saying “you have a great analysis on what’s wrong but what are you going to do about it?”. He challenged me to step up with solutions because the poorest and most vulnerable needed more from me than a declaration of my values.

The latest two days in Westminster has been to clearly express my view again, and I will be meeting direct with government ministers to call for funding and powers and I won’t stop.  I will work with our four city MP’s to do the same.  But – at the same time, I will continue to call on our city. The national cuts are a challenge for all of us, not just the city council. As the government forcibly shrinks the council’s footprint in the city, we must find alternative solutions and through our current round of consultations or by any means you like, come forward with ideas and join your community to work together for all of us.

To take part in our consultation visit www.bristol.gov.uk/yourneighbourhood

Cool Bristol

On the warmest day of the year, people are talking about how cool Bristol is.

In an article titled Redefining ‘Cool Britannia’ outside the capital in Demos Quarterly today, Journalist John Harris says that Bristol’s ‘abiding culture mixes egalitarianism with the urgent excitement of a people who do not wait for anyone’s permission before getting started.’

I think we have some way to go to become more egalitarian here in Bristol and I am committed to improving social mobility and closing the gap between richest and poorest areas in the city.  But I believe that Bristol is innovative, unique, subversive and, while it doesn’t seem like it today, pretty cool.

Talking Heads

Today my Cabinet Lead for Education, Claire Hiscott, and I met today with head teachers from secondary and primary schools from across Bristol.

I have made a clear commitment to giving every child the best possible start in life and schools are key to this.  So it was essential to hear from them about how they think the city must work to enable our schools to flourish.

Funding is a key issue.  That goes without saying. The Government’s National Funding Formula sets out the budgets schools have and in total 92 city schools would lose out financially.  The figures show that while support for secondary schools has increased on average by £2,524, primary schools have lost £9,940 on averageWe are writing to Justine Greening, Secretary of State for Education, to ask how her commitment to ensuring no Bristol school loses out financially will be made real. We’ll share our approach with the Core Cities network and ask them to join us in lobbying government. Our new MPs will play a key role in ensuring Westminster understands that education is an investment, not a cost.

We must also get the health service in the city working in a more joined up way with schools, especially around mental health. I am going to take this challenge on, working through the Learning City Partnership and the Health and Wellbeing Boards.

We also discussed the need for better internal communications between schools to share support and best practice. At the moment there are pockets of connected schools but the whole city remains fragmented.

High-Rise Blocks

I was saddened to hear news of the tragic events of the fire at Grenfell Tower in London yesterday.   My thoughts and sympathies are with the friends and families of all those affected.

I would like to reassure Council Tenants that the Council and Avon Fire and Rescue Service work extremely closely on fire safety and all our tower blocks have Fire Risk Assessments in place which are checked annually.   We also have a number of other safety measures in place, such as smoke detectors in every home.

We do not believe that there is any cause for concern about the council’s housing blocks, but the Council will of course consider the details of the fire in London as they emerge, including whether there are any other steps which may need to be taken.

You can hear my Cabinet Lead for Housing, Paul Smith, speak on BBC Radio Bristol this morning about the safety of high-rise blocks in the city via: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p054dcbb (2:06:30)

 

Your Neighbourhood Consultation

We have now launched the consultation to Bristol as a result of the budget and government cuts.  Please make sure you take part in the consultation before it closes on 5 September.  The reductions in funding mean that the council will not be able to provide all the services in the past.  This is a challenge for the whole city.

You can take part in the consultation here: https://www.bristol.gov.uk/en_US/council-spending-performance/your-neighbourhood-consultation-2017

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First Congestion Task Group Meeting

This morning I gathered together a group of transport experts from across the Bristol region to bring the city some hope for our badly congested and unreliable transport network.

This is an opportunity to move away from individual transport projects and look at how to deliver a transport solution for Bristol.

I explained to the group they will be driving the agenda. They will work together to look at what the city needs to tackle congestion and unlock economic growth for all. I want, and we need, a transport network that connects people to people, jobs and opportunities.

You can read more here.

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