Temple Island – The Future

Today’s guest blog comes from Pete Gladwell, Head of Public Sector Partnerships at Legal and General.

Today is a big day for Legal & General’s work in Bristol.  I’m very excited to have reached this key point in drawing up proposals for the redevelopment of the landmark Temple Island site.  A lot has happened since we started speaking to the Council nearly five years ago about working more closely for the good of the city, and Temple Quarter in particular.  The University Innovation Campus and commitment by all parties including the Council, Network Rail, and Homes England to work together to reconfigured and refurbished Temple Meads Station has given huge impetus to the development of the rest of Temple Quarter. We have appointed a full design team, including world-renowned architects, and have agreed a draft working protocol with the Council.

If you’d like to find out more about our vision for this historic site, here’s a preview of the development principles we’ll be adopting if the Council’s Cabinet agree to dispose of the site to us. We’re looking forward to presenting these to the Council’s Scrutiny Committee this evening and engaging proactively and positively with the local community over the coming months to shape the scheme.

Legal & General is a long term investor, who will have a long term stake in seeing Temple Quarter become a thriving place that both we and the city can be proud to call our own.  We’re determined this place will be an exemplar of sustainable development, putting the climate and ecological emergency we are facing at its heart, whilst providing the affordable housing that the city desperately needs.  It will be an iconic and vibrant place to live, work and do business; incorporating conferencing, a hotel, and quality public space. Legal & General has 116,000 customers in Bristol – many of whom have entrusted their savings and pensions to us.  This is about enabling them to have a positive impact, by investing back into their city.

We are looking forward to receiving the views of the Scrutiny Committee later on today.  Equally importantly, if this is to be a really inclusive place, we’ll need the help of people and community groups locally to welcome the new residents to the area.  They will be from a whole range of demographics and backgrounds, thanks to the mix of affordability points that Temple Island will offer.  We’re looking forward to speaking to people locally to understand how we can shape something that serves their priorities and to help us bring forward a truly exciting scheme for the city.

09.01.2020-Proposal for Temple Island_LG-FINAL

The E-Bike Challenge

I recently had the pleasure of riding an electric bike, loaned to me by Volt Bikes UK, for the ‘Mayor’s e-bike challenge’. The challenge was for me and a member of my team to use e-bikes to travel to as many of my appointments around Bristol as possible.

In any given day, I might have to travel to destinations as far apart as Whitchurch and Avonmouth, so it’s easier said than done to ditch the car to get to my engagements on time. A member of my team always accompanies me to my appointments, to take actions and follow up with the people I meet, so this adds another caveat – we have to get to our destination in time, looking tidy and in one piece.

Apart from a couple of trips on my mum’s, I haven’t ridden an electric bike before. I must say, it was great.

My first long trip was from City Hall to Brislington trading estate to visit Hamilton Litestat. It was a breeze. Enough effort to feel good about moving but not so much required that you end up covered in sweat. It’s a great feeling when you peddle and the power kicks in, pushing you along at a gentle 15mph.

cycling 3You have to get on top of the battery charging. It’s a liberating feeling when its fully charged, but there was a day I had plugged it in without realising the socket had not been switched on. I put the battery back into the bike later that day, full of confidence and optimism for my ride home. The power died a couple of minutes in. That was a heavy ride, all up hill. But that was down to me. The e-bike was great.

Let me take a little space here to share that one of the best features of the bike wasn’t actually the tech. It was the fixed mudguards. I’d never had mud guards before – leaving me trying to avoid puddles on those wet days or falling prey to the brown mud line up the back and the splashed socks and trousers. I have tried those fix yourself rear mud guards but never managed to get on top of how you stop them eventually spinning out of place, sticking out to the side of the bike. In the end, I always just take them off.

cycling 2I did come across a situation that disappointed me. I was on the railway path around school home time and a father was standing on the side with his two children waiting to cross. He had an arm stretched across their chests. People just rode past. I stopped to let them cross, and someone behind me gave me a mouthful about stopping on the railway path. I advised the chap to ride a little slower and anticipate he might have to stop, especially in a shared space, especially when there are primary aged school children or other vulnerable children in that shared space.

I had some interesting feedback on social media. Some suspected that like the 1969 moon landing, my e-bike challenge had been faked. They cited evidence such as my wearing work shoes – apparently it’s too difficult to ride with work shoes. Someone pointed out it wouldn’t be possible to fit my black jacket over a suit jacket. One person attempted to lead people to conclude that my engaging in the e-bike challenge was evidence I don’t ride a bike any other time. I don’t often directly engage with online conspiracies but this one has the potential to get out of control so I want to put on the record – I did ride the e-bike and it wasn’t the only time I have cycled.

Other feedback criticised me for the clothing I was wearing, or not wearing. There were occasions I’d worn a black jacket (the same black jacket that could not fit over a suit jacket) and on a couple of occasions I hadn’t had a helmet on – to be honest this also makes my wife a little irritated although she just told me rather than taking to social media.

cycling 1This question of kit is an issue. We want more people on bikes. One of the challenges is to get to a point where people can feel welcomed to ride bikes without having to become fully fledged cyclists. It means that for most people, a bike will be a means of transport. I had a chat with someone from Sustrans about this the other day. It’s a quick statement, but it is important. And probably a discussion for another occasion.

I know that e-bikes are not for everyone. They’re significantly heavier than regular bikes, can be bulky to store inside small terraced houses or flats and charging can be tricky depending on the way the battery is stored. This has been a real challenge for my mum who is now in her 70s. They’re also expensive, meaning they can be out of reach for those on lower incomes.

Fortunately, in Bristol we have an e-bike loan scheme so you can give one a try without the commitment. Better By Bike loaned 180 bikes in the Bristol area last year, including e-bikes. They do require a £250 deposit, but there is no charge for being loaned the e-bike itself.

We will be exploring more avenues of making e-bikes more accessible because with all of our city’s hills, they will be a key part of our future transport solution.

Ofsted SEND Report: Our response

Today we published the findings of the Ofsted and Care Quality Commission’s (CQC) local area inspection of Special Educational Needs and/or Disability (SEND) services across Bristol.

We made the decision to publish before Ofsted and the CQC because we feel it’s important that the inspectors’ findings are known and discussed before the Christmas break. Families and practitioners have been through enough and should have the chance to see their concerns confirmed by Ofsted and know what we intend to do to respond.

The findings are there for everyone to see and they confirm what we already know about the state of SEND services in Bristol. Over nine years of government and local failings building up have shaped a system that, for too long, has let down children, young people and families. I apologise for the part we have played and for responding too slowly to the concerns of those affected.

These challenges are well known and I won’t take up this blog going over them again – Ofsted’s report does that in detail. What I will do is make a commitment that the green shoots of recovery inspectors found to be taking root will be supported to deliver real change for children and families. It is encouraging that our city’s children centres, and the support we offer to young people with special educational needs and/or disabilities into employment through the ‘Bristol Works for Everyone’ initiative, were identified as particular strengths by inspectors. We will continue to support these vital services which make such a difference to children, young people and their families across Bristol.

This has already begun with additional investment in SEND services, with a particular focus on Education Health and Care Plans. Twenty four new staff have being recruited to work in SEND, with 23 specifically working on these plans to help tackle both the backlog of overdue assessments that need to be completed, as well as the new plans coming in. This additional resource will help us better cope with demand but the effects won’t be felt immediately by families, parents and carers.

We share this responsibility for improvement with our partners in the health and education sectors. It’s only through working together, and in co-production with parents and carers, will we fix the system locally and continue to challenge government to fix the system nationally.

Children are at the heart of this administration.    We were the first city in the UK to launch a Children’s Charter and make bold commitments to develop a city where children can fulfil their potential. Across the board we are delivering for children and young people – the number of apprenticeships on offer is up, we’ve saved children’s centres, there’s more school places, fewer children are going hungry during school holidays – these are all contributing to a brighter future for most.

Whilst we hold our hands up and agree that the delivery of SEND services has been far from acceptable let’s acknowledge the positive work Cllr Godwin and Cllr Keen have undertaken along with their Cabinet colleagues, council officers, partners and communities.

We have a dedicated and committed SEND team and I am confident we have the right people in place to move forward with our plans for improvement. We will not rest until children young people, parents, carers and practitioners all have a service and the tools they need to flourish.

Period Friendly Bristol

Today’s guest blog comes from Cllr Helen Godwin, my Cabinet Lead for Women, Children and Families.

After a whirlwind 14 months of endless meetings, email and lots of hard work; today is the day that we launch Period Friendly Bristol.

This project, born out of the desire to correct an injustice that many didn’t know existed in Bristol, has involved some 200 different people or partners and has demonstrated how Bristol can truly work as One City, with this having been identified by city leaders as a key priority for the One City Approach for 2019.

In 2017, 140,000 young people missed school because of period poverty. In Bristol 40% of students have missed school because of their period. These are huge numbers that undeniably have an effect on education and especially, physical education.

These shocking statistics gave us the impetus and energy to focus on making a real change in Bristol. We used all mechanisms open to us – we passed a unanimous full council motion, we held the world’s first Period Poverty Summit and took our ambitions to the whole city where it was voted as a key aim for 2019.

So we set to work with a small but dedicated team determined to make a change that no other city in the world has attempted. We came up with two key strands of work.

We commissioned local menstrual health experts, the Real Period Project, and anti-plastic campaigners, City to Sea, to develop a Bristol standard education programme that is free to access  for all schools in the city. Our intention is to change attitudes to periods through education – we want boys to understand menstrual health, as well as girls and we want to raise awareness of product choice in line with our ambitions to reduce plastic use. We also want to educate school leaders around toilet policies, access to products and ensuring that teaching staff are sensitive to the needs of young people.

We worked with the Youth Council and Plimsoll Productions to develop a short film and survey to explore young people’s views and experiences of Period Poverty and Stigma. The experiences of young people then informed the work of the education programme ensuring our programme is fit for purpose.

A key and innovative element of the work is a city wide donation and distribution network. We want Bristol to be a place where no one has to worry about having their period. Working alongside corporate partners we are now poised to redistribute donations in the communities that need them most. From January our pilot will launch with 16 community centres, GP surgeries, leisure centres and libraries involved from the outset. A really exciting element of this project has been working with Bristol’s tech and data community to create a web app to support our network. Seeing people come together on a rainy weekend in September to spend their time researching and creating a site to support vulnerable people in Bristol was humbling and uplifting.

Today is our opportunity to share this body of work with the city and to ask for more engagement and support. We want businesses to step forward to become involved, we want to see donations across the city and we want to truly make Bristol a city where everyone can afford to have their period.

Whitchurch Lane – Joint Statement

This is a joint statement issued on behalf of the Mayor and campaigners from the South Bristol Wrong Road group following a meeting on Thursday 5 December at City Hall:

The Mayor and his office, the Head of Strategic City Transport and South Bristol Wrong Road group representatives met on Thursday 5 December to discuss future proposals for transport infrastructure developments in and around Whitchurch. It was a constructive conversation about the timeline and decision-making process for any plans, as well as some more detailed points about the alternatives.

Mayor Marvin Rees opened the discussion by welcoming residents to City Hall. He acknowledged the community’s concerns about proposed transport developments on Whitchurch Lane, including:

  • noise pollution
  • the impact on Bridge Farm School and local businesses
  • air quality
  • the capacity of the local road network
  • road safety

The Mayor also offered his view on the wider context that this conversation takes place in – a housing crisis with thousands of families on the BCC waiting list, the need to invest and transform Bristol’s transport network, and the recognition of a climate emergency.

The Mayor set out his desire to have an ongoing and constructive dialogue with the community, he offered to meet regularly with campaigners to keep the community informed about the evolution of different proposals. This was agreed to and a subsequent meeting will be arranged for the new year.

The Head of Strategic City Transport at Bristol City Council gave an overview of the decision-making processes involved in progressing new transport links in the Whitchurch area. It was explained that we are at the very earliest stages of working with neighbouring local authorities and the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) to identify future transport infrastructure need. The authorities are undertaking a high-level discussion about range of possible options, and – given no feasibility studies have been conducted yet – any works are likely to be a decade away at the earliest.

He confirmed that no work is being undertaken to develop proposals at the moment. If funding is secured from the government, potentially as part of the HIF bid, it would be to progress further study and design work to examine the options available. It was stressed, that even if funding was agreed and the resulting work found options that are viable, there will be several decision-making processes in which the community will have opportunities to feed into public consultation.

Discussion then moved to the potential viability of a number of possible options that could meet the area’s changing transport needs, including tunnelling, routes to the south or a Metrobus-only road.

It was agreed that Bristol City Council, and partners, should have done a much better job of explaining the timeline of events to residents and local businesses as many were not aware that any plans are many years in the future. It was appreciated that BANES are the lead authority for much of this work and the conversation highlighted that that the Mayor of Bristol and Bristol City Council has only limited decision-making power over this regional, strategic infrastructure project.  As a result, the Mayor and residents agreed to request further engagement from WECA and BANES.

We look forward to continuing to work together to develop positive dialogue about the future of sustainable transport infrastructure in the area.

Building a Reputation for Innovation

This week we have received highly positive feedback on Bristol City Council’s joint bid with British Research Establishment (BRE), a centre of building science, and a consortium of partners to the UK Research and Innovation agency.

Following a successful submission, the project builds on the work of the Bristol Housing Festival to showcase and facilitate delivery of Modern Methods of Construction. The proposal has been selected for the 2nd stage of the Innovate UK call, closing in on the consortium’s £2m bid. zed-pods-1

Modern Methods of construction, the term for off-site or factory built homes, are part of the Festival’s innovative approach to finding solutions to the UK’s housing crisis. The Festival is about making the city a living exhibition of the latest and most inventive approaches to housing and the launch has set the scene for our unorthodox approach. The Bristol Housing Festival sets out our aspirations to showcase the city’s determination to lead and deliver on one of our key priorities.

Innovate UK is a government agency which looks to support research and help innovation to flourish. They work with partners to benefit everyone through knowledge, talent and ideas and have invested in projects worth over £4.3 billion over the last ten years. Their competition looked for 10 world-leading practical demonstrator projects which must establish improvements in productivity, quality and performance of the UK construction sector.

The bid scored very high marks and feedback, so we are now even more optimistic that this bid will be successful and secure additional funding for the council. It will help with increased staff resource and additional expertise, so that a fully funded programme could commence in April next year.

jezJez Sweetland, the director of the Festival said ‘We are delighted that the bid has received such a positive response – the ambition of the bid and its collaboration across 15 partners is great testament to the ambition, scale and opportunity that is being shaped in Bristol.’

The next stage is an interview and presentation in London at the start of January, which will be attend by BRE, Bristol City Council and Bristol Housing Festival.

We then expect to hear about the result later next month. We know that the Housing Festival, Bristol City Council working in collaboration with the right partners have so much more to do if we are to overturn decades of failure to build homes, but this shows the progress being made and the scale of ambition. Getting external praise is encouraging and shows our commitment to ensuring Bristol is a place with a reputation for innovation and getting stuff done.

I’d like to thank everyone involved in the project to date and wish them good luck for the next stage.

Mobile People in a Warming World


In the run up to the General Election, people might be thinking short term. So it was hugely refreshing to welcome over 120 people to City Hall on International Human Rights Day to discuss two of the issues that will define our lives over the coming decades – climate change and migration.

The event, titled ‘The Climate and Our Community’, was organised in partnership by the Mayor’s Office, Bristol Green Capital Partnership, Bristol Refugee Rights and Bristol City of Sanctuary. Its aim was to open up the conversation on climate change to all of Bristol’s diverse communities, and to explore the links between our changing climate and the growing number of people who are forcibly displaced around the world.

To kick off the event I wanted to emphasise the context within which this conversation was happening. We have a long history of work on these issues in Bristol and plenty more planned in the years ahead. Through our international engagement Bristol has played a significant role in the development of the UN Global Compacts on Migration and Refugees. Now through my place on the Leadership Board of the Mayors Migration Council we have the opportunity to keep making the links between city discussions about migration and the work of C40 and others on helping cities tackle climate change. And as we seek to have a global impact, we need to make the most of our globally-connected population. Bristol’s many diverse communities are a key strength of our city, and this event was an important contribution to ensuring that discussions of social justice are fully inclusive of the communities affected. I wanted to highlight to all those present that the discussions today will help to set the agenda for me, for Bristol, and for others around the world as we seek to address these issues over the long term.

The conference continued with some presentations that brought home the scale of the challenges that we are all facing. Dr Jo House from the University of Bristol shared some of the latest science on the impacts of climate change, and its connection to displacement. From sea level change to heatwaves, from food insecurity to natural disasters, the impact of climate change will be widespread and irreversible. And one of the biggest impacts will be a dramatic rise in the number of people forced to leave their homes and communities due to climate-related disasters and the destruction of their livelihoods.IMG_0092a

The International Displacement Monitoring Centre has declared that in the first six months of 2019 a record 7 million people were displaced by extreme weather events. The human impact of such a shocking statistic was brought home through a presentation from Dominik Byrne from the charity Bristol Link with Beira. They help facilitate the friendship agreement between Bristol and Beira in Mozambique. Mozambique has been designated as the 3rd most vulnerable country to climate change in Africa, with 60% of its population living in locations prone to natural hazards. So it was sadly no surprise when Beira and its 500,000 population were devastated by Cyclone Idai in March 2019. Over 90% of the city collapsed, causing $800 million in damage and destroying 104 of the city’s 150 schools. Bristol Link with Beira has played a key role in facilitating the rebuilding work since this terrible tragedy, and this city-to-city link is a great example of the way that global solidarity can be made real in the face of the devastating consequences of climate change.

April Humble, a researcher on climate change migration and border security, helped put the discussion into historical perspective with an overview of human mobility over time. This helped highlight the reality that people throughout time have always moved, that people in from the UK have been especially mobile around the world, and that the realities of globalisation and climate change will see more people than ever on the move in the future. Whilst national leaders debate how to fight against this reality, it will be up to cities and communities to advance a conversation about how we can adapt to the future with compassion and justice.

As well as informative presentations, the conference also created  opportunities for participation, through discussions in pairs and at tables but also through an interactive storytelling session looking at the myths surrounding Bristol’s geography – the story of our land.

Perhaps the highlight of the conference was the contribution of those who are experts through experience when it comes to climate change and migration. Ahmed Aden and Xhemile Kaza both shared their personal experiences of coming to the UK as asylum seekers and the role that climate change had played in their journey. They highlighted both positive and negative elements of their experiences in Bristol, challenging us to live up to our status as a City of Sanctuary. In doing so they exemplified the huge asset that our refugee and asylum seeking population represent to Bristol. Their contribution also sparked a broader conversation about how we think about refugees and asylum seekers, and whether national and international rules need to change to encompass those displaced by climate change.

The conference ended with a discussion on Bristol’s climate change strategy, emphasising the practical work that is happening and that needs to happen to adapt to our changing climate. Many of the actions require partnership working through our One City Approach, highlighting the responsibility of everyone in the city to step up to the challenges before us.

These challenges can be daunting, but the diversity and quality of contribution throughout this event give me great hope that Bristol can play a world-leading role in addressing the great issues of our time.

Small Business Saturday

Ahead of this weekend’s seventh annual Small Business Saturday today’s guest blog comes from Simon Dicken, Chair of Bedminster Business Improvement District.

Since 2013 Bedminster BID has been working closely with local businesses to further develop the economic viability of Bedminster, by championing the area, its businesses and residents. An estimated £812m was spent in small businesses across the UK on the corresponding day last year and the day is important in supporting small businesses which are a vibrant part of our city against the backdrop of a challenging time for the high street.

As many people’s minds at this time of year turn to preparing for Christmas, from presents to the food, I believe this is the perfect opportunity to consider our high streets and small businesses up and down the country.

As we move together as a generation towards sustainability and increased environmental awareness, I am certain our high streets and local shopping areas are going to be a pivotal part of our future. What can be better than a place where we can walk to and support local people who have either taken the brave step of going it alone or maintaining, in many cases, a family legacy.

Most of these businesses directly on our doorsteps source locally, live locally and employ- locally.

As chairman of the Bedminster Business Improvement District (BID) we have seen many changes over the last seven years with new businesses appearing across the area catering for the needs of the community they serve. This is one of the fantastic opportunities open to the small business owners who are able to adapt virtually overnight to trends in customer habits which, with the rise of social media, alter in a fast and unprecedented way than ever before.

We have seen over the last few years many larger businesses fail by not being able to adapt to the retail landscape quickly enough. The loss of these larger businesses and the subsequent job losses and vacant units have been hard on our local economies but I feel this is part of the commercial evolution in our country and opens doors for individuals and co-operatives to move into the gaps left behind.

Out of town and larger shopping centres give us a convenient and consistent offer, which certainly has its place for us all; but caution must be made on not losing the beating heart of the high streets across the land that provide not only a more sustainable shopping mission but for many of the elderly and vulnerable of society a safe place to come and engage socially.

I am sure you would agree that we don’t want to live in a future where we have lost our local shops and are all reliant on cars to get our goods while parts of the community sit in isolation.

So I appeal to shoppers and policy makers alike to support their high streets and the businesses that rely on them to overcome these current challenges and changes to ensure we have them today, tomorrow and forever.

From the ground up

Today is UN World Soil Day. Concerns over the health of agricultural soil might not seem like an issue that would concern us, living in a major city. However, with the highest levels of obesity found in urban areas, improving access to healthy food has to be a key priority.

The UK doesn’t eat enough fresh fruit and veg. Only 29% of adults and 18% of children eat the recommended daily amount of fruit or veg and almost 10% of reception aged children have a BMI categorised as obese, growing to 20% of children in year 6.

Programs to encourage better diets are valuable but the problem goes much deeper than education. People know that an apple is better for them than a bag of crisps, but often the choice isn’t that straightforward. Fresh produce (especially organic foods) are considerably more expensive that junk food alternatives and aren’t as readily available in low-income communities, where obesity levels are highest.  Many Bristol residents live in ‘food deserts’ with limited access to affordable fresh food.

Due to a decade of government led austerity, many families are limited to purchasing cheap food of low nutritional value. The two-tiered food system cannot continue.   It must not be the case that only the wealthiest people can afford to purchase healthy and nutritious food while the most vulnerable families in our city can only afford to purchase food that is high in salt, fat and sugar. The lack of affordable food choices in the UK condemns a generation of low-income children to poor health, shortening their life expectancy and reducing the long-term likelihood of escaping poverty.

To reverse trends in malnutrition and diseases across the city, there needs to be a radical re-imagining of how we produce and consume food – every citizen in Bristol needs access to healthy and nutritional food and no Bristolian should go hungry.

We are working hard to become a Gold Sustainable Food City, developing a stronger Bristol food system that promotes dietary health for all citizens. Our Bristol Going For Gold campaign is encouraging a citywide commitment to reduce food waste across the city and improve catering and procurement by increasing the weighting placed on food quality, with local production being a key consideration.

We also need to grow more food locally and encourage urban farming right here in Bristol. To tackle food poverty we aim that by 2040, 15% of Bristol’s annual fruit and vegetable supply will come from a network of market gardens and farms within the city-limits. This could mean more high-tech solutions from companies like Grow Bristol, who are using innovative hydroponic systems. It will also mean increasing community gardens across Bristol to allow more people the opportunity to grow their own vegetables.    

In my 2020 campaign for Mayor, I pledge to have community gardens and allotments in every ward and I will pledge that affordable fresh food will be available within a 10-minute radius from every home by 2031.

It may surprise you to know that Bristol has almost 1,500 hectares of designated farmland, some of it in the top 3% of food growing land in the country, but as we wrestle with the housing crisis and a city which will grow, it creates a difficult tension.  It is essential that we build more housing to accommodate an ever-growing population, but we cannot lose green spaces that are essential for environmental health and physical activity.

Changing the food infrastructure and supply chains, I want a permanent food hub in the heart of Bristol so that small-scale farmers, growers and food producers can sell their produce throughout the year in a high-spec facility. This would also provide a new landmark for the city and provide a gathering place for the city to share food and build connections.

Healthy food must be something that we can all afford and enjoy – our farmland and soil is at the root of achieving that goal.

Women in leadership

At Cabinet on Tuesday Nicola Beech had her 10 month old son Alex. As we worked through agenda covering Adult Social Care, South Bristol’s Recycling and Reuse center, the Portway Park and Ride station, our budget, road maintenance and the Harbour review. He sat there squeaking and making noise. I was proud.

Cllr Helen Godwin had stressed the importance of Family Friendly politics. It’s vital our politics is more inclusive and in turn expressive of different life experiences. With the burden for childcare disproportionately falling onto the shoulders of women, making politics family friendly makes it more possible for women to take leadership roles. For too long our politics in general – and local authority politics in particular – has been dominated by retired white men. And we have reaped the consequences.

We made a 50:50 commitment for our cabinet. And we have delivered: with five women appointed to four men and one woman as a Deputy Mayor. We have women in leadership. Between myself and my cabinet we have 13 school aged kids between us.

I was talking to young women this afternoon about women in political leadership and I was struck by the role modelling, the number of women in leadership in Bristol,  has brought.  

And most importantly, we can look at the city looks like through parent’s eyes. The result?

There are implications for this commitment. School plays, parent’s evenings, pregnancies and sick children are normal parts of every family and have all impacted on our cabinet. They have not impacted on performance but we have had to find a way to support each other to navigate the unending supply of council meetings. If we don’t do this we will lose younger, more gender and ethnically diverse councillors. Staying real with family is critical to remaining rounded political leaders who understand the city and continue to deliver.

Despite this, an opposition councillor last week made a complaint to the press about Helen Godwin our Cabinet lead for Women Children and Families for not attending a Scrutiny meeting. The circumstances are important. Her son was off school with a fever, along with 50 other children from the school. She had talked to me beforehand, ensured her work load was being taken forward. What’s more, the setting of the time and dates had not been checked with the member. It is Helen that instituted and led the development of the Bristol Children’s Charter, work on care leavers (including exempting them from council tax up to the age of 25yrs), childcare, street conflict and knife crime and a campaign on period poverty that’s influenced national policy and won the admiration of the Mayor of Los Angeles, amongst many others.

Our Cabinet member for strategic planning, Nicola Beech leads some of our most complex work around urban planning and large developments worth billions of pounds whilst being a mum to two children under three. The pace of city development and cranes on the horizon are evidence she is doing a great job. No complaints from credible developers in the city or government until an opposition councillor raised questions about her attendance at some council meetings. Again, an unwell baby had come in between her and those meetings but had not come between her and other council meetings or the true role of councillors of delivering for Bristol. Its Nicola who has taken leadership of the Temple Meads redevelopment, setting out minimum standards and on climate resilient housing at Frome Gateway .

It’s evidence of a failure of the opposition to either understand or take seriously the need to make politics more inclusive – particularly in this instance for women – and what it takes to make it more inclusive.

I am proud of my cabinet. We are the most diverse cabinet in the most diverse political party Bristol has ever known. We have delivered inclusion alongside an ambition and excellence that has won national and international plaudits. The emphasis for this administration has always been on working with the city to deliver rather than talking to ourselves in meetings that offer councillors anonymity as they fail to get anything done. We are delivering where the old systems have failed.    

These attacks are not real political debate. Rather it’s symptomatic of the deterioration in the tone and quality of our civic discourse. Michelle Obama might call it “low” politics, and we are all paying a price for it.

And this week an opposition councillor has raised questions over Anna Keen, our cabinet lead for Education and Skills. Anna is a Primary school teacher. She reduced her work hours to part time to make space alongside family to take on the cabinet role. Again, Anna has delivered not least by bringing genuine expertise in the education system and professional knowledge of what’s happening on the front line i.e. in the classroom, to the decisions we make. And yet an opposition councillor has suggested she shouldn’t take the full allowance if, as he wrongly suggests, she isn’t full time.   

Again, there is no question over Anna’s performance. In fact, even on the challenge of SEND, the recent inspection said that while Bristol was not where it should be (a consequence of both local and national failures that have been building for many years), it is since Anna became the lead that the green shoots of recovery began to appear.

But we need to keep the following in mind: working people have to keep their existing jobs because of the insecurity of political appointment and election cycle. Working people then have to balance two jobs, or a part time job if they have an understanding employer. Working people can’t spend all their time in cabinet and then drop off a cliff after election or cabinet change by mayor. People who aren’t independently wealthy need the income to supplement what is a modest allowance  when compared the quantity of work and scale of responsibility they take on and they need career security afterwards.

We want people in political leadership who face the same challenges as the city, who look like them, have to behave like them and face financial and family challenges, like them.  If we start attacking them when life gets in the way of council meetings, we’ll lose them. This will be both an injustice in itself and bad for us as we are thrown back in time to a world in which only the wealthy had the time and financial means to become political leaders. 

Somebody recently asked me about what the hardest part of my job as a mayor was. I told them that it was trying to juggle the responsibilities as a husband and father with the demands of office and diary.

No-one is asking for sympathy. That is not the point. What we need is a better quality of political debate, a more representative political cohort made up of broadminded people with lived experience of the array of life challenges and a city council ready to make provision needed to make that possible.

I don’t usually respond to the efforts to throw mud and create fake debates. But I thought I would on this occasion. We made a pledge to make politics in the chamber child friendly and we have. And we will stick with it in the face of whatever criticisms the opposition may try to dredge up and pass off as real politics.