Bristol Living Wage City – celebrating success and building back better

It’s over a year since we formally announced our recognition as a Living Wage City, and whilst there’s plenty to celebrate, there’s also much more progress to be made.

I was delighted to hear that the University of the West of England and the West of England Combined Authority have both recently become Living Wage accredited employers, and we’ve already hit one of our three-year targets, seeing 1,900 more people uplifted onto a Real Living Wage.

This is a real achievement, especially in the context of Covid and an economic recession.  So I’d like to congratulate the 39 organisations who joined the initiative in the West of England in 2020. Each person raised to the real Living Wage gains 59pper hour (that’sover £21 a week, £1,135 a year above the national living wage. The difference that uplift will make to many in our city should not be underestimated.

The past year has undoubtedly shone a light on many of the cracks in our labour market. Too many people find themselves in precarious or low paid employment, and many of those who have worked so hard on the front line during the pandemic still don’t receive the Real Living Wage.

That’s why the Living Wage Foundation are choosing to focus on key workers as a priority group for the year ahead, with an ambition of lifting more health and care staff, cleaners and transport workers out of in-work poverty. I think that’s the very least they deserve, and our Bristol Living Wage Action Group will be seeking to improve pay in key-worker occupations at a local level too.

The moral case for a Real Living Wage is compelling, but there’s a strong business case too. 93% of Living Wage businesses report benefits after becoming accredited – 86% say it’s improved the reputation of their business and 75% say it’s increased motivation and retention of employees, cutting business costs and benefitting the bottom line. Not only that, but more money in worker’s pockets means potentially £2m extra spending in the local economy.

As restrictions slowly begin to lift, and we move into a recovery period that we hope will see our city emerge fairer, stronger and more resilient than before, achieving a Real Living Wage for all will be critical. That’s why you’ll see it prioritised in our One City Economic Recovery Strategy as a key part of our ambition to work with employers to support inclusive growth.

But we can’t do it on our own. We need more employers to get involved and become accredited. The process is simple and there are people on hand to support you through it.

To find out more, you can go to the Living Wage Foundation website or you can join one of our upcoming Action Group meetings – just email

As a city, Bristol does things differently. When it comes to business, let’s lead the way in creating an economy that works for everyone.

Spring Budget

Yesterday, Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, set out the national government’s Spring Budget. It was a chance to get us firmly on the road to recovery, to frontload investment in green infrastructure and lay solid foundations to rebuild after the pandemic. As with all national Budgets, we have questions about what it means for Bristol and will continue to look closely at how it might help us to rebuild a more inclusive and sustainable city.

We have worked with Bristol’s businesses and trade unions to call for an extension to the furlough scheme, and so welcome this decision. Further support for self-employed people is also positive, but still unfortunately leaves millions without any support at all. Doubling the payments made to employers who hire new apprenticeships is a step in the right direction. We are proud to be among of the city’s leaders on quality apprenticeships and expect to employ more than 200 apprentices by the end of the month.

It is also welcome to see some £800,000 of new core funding for the Western Gateway, which we founded with Cardiff and Newport to bring more investment to the region – similar to the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine. Hopefully this further show of confidence from the Chancellor will soon be matched by funding for Temple Quarter. We do not want a blank cheque, but instead a bankable partnership – so that we can work together as reliable partners to deliver and get things done for Bristol.

After passing our fifth balanced Bristol budget last month, pressures remain after ten years of national austerity and the finances we inherited. Along with other councils, including the dozen or so said to be in rescue talks with Westminster, we will have to wait until later this year with the Comprehensive Spending Review to hear about Government plans to meet the longer term sustainable funding requirements of local authorities. The Treasury has also confirmed plans for a £30 billion cut to day-to-day spending on health and social care, at a time when there are close to quarter of a million people waiting for treatment. With adult social care making up the largest, and still increasing, proportion of councils’ budgets, the continued absence of a long-awaited plan for reform was another glaring omission.

After clapping our inspiring key workers last year, the Government is sadly ploughing ahead with plans freeze their pay. Westminster is also set to freeze tax thresholds, which is likely to make 1 million low-paid workers worse off. There is also a real-terms cut to statutory sick pay – at a time when around 70% of applications for national support to self-isolate are refused. Another cliff edge has been set for September, when the uplift in Universal Credit for Bristol’s poorest families is now set to expire, against the warnings of leading anti-poverty charities.

Questions are already being asked about the Levelling Up fund, including how Bristol – with dozens of the most deprived areas in the country – has been left out of the top 100 priority areas. We will though be able to bid for investment for transport projects, with an additional bid possible through the West of England Combined Authority – who will also be the lead authority for bids into the UK Community Renewal Fund.

Supporting Bristol’s asylum seekers and refugees

Today’s guest blog comes from Beth Wilson (Bristol Refugee Rights), Layla Ismail (Refugee Women of Bristol) and Robert von Hawrylak (Borderlands), who discuss the work they have done through the support of the Bristol Impact Fund.

Photo credit: Borderlands

Bristol Asylum Seeker and Refugee Hubs is a collaboration between Bristol Refugee Rights, Refugee Women of Bristol and Borderlands, which has been funded by the Bristol Impact Fund since 2017.  Originally funding was for three drop in centre hubs which together provided 5 days a week of support services for asylum seekers and refugees: a social space, enjoying a delicious cooked meal with friends, free shop, destitution support, English classes, advice and information and much more. 

The Covid-19 pandemic forced all three drop in centres to pause as much face-to-face work had to stop, whilst they re-defined their services.  What quickly emerged was a need for financial assistance as many who had been just about surviving pre-pandemic, no longer could; a need for housing as sofa surfing / sleeping rough ceased to be an option; a need for a smart phone, as the digital divide became a chasm.  A community already suffering with poor mental health risked spiralling into despair and re-traumatisation as panic buying and being forced to stay at home reminded people of what they had fled.  Many whose mental health was just about kept in check by their regular attendance at drop in centres were at risk from deep isolation allowing their demons to creep back in. 

Working together with other refugee voluntary sector organisations in Bristol, the Hubs quickly responded to these new and emerging needs. Using their model of sharing the load of meeting needs, but also being individual organisations putting their own special take on the services they offer, the hubs designed a new model.  Bristol Impact Fund provided the flexibility and trust that these organisations knew what their service users needed thus enabling this quick shift in focus.

Borderlands focused on food, continuing to provide a weekly takeaway meal, a food bag and money to those who are destitute, deliveries to those who could not travel or are self-isolating.  Bristol Refugee Rights focused on advice and digital inclusion, ensuring individuals had help with their financial situation, finding somewhere to stay and understanding what was happening with their asylum claim, providing devices, data and tech support.  Refugee Women of Bristol recruited bilingual member volunteers to mobilise community members to find families in need of support to help them access information, specialist services, identify people at risk and provide basic support at the community level.  All of our organisations reached out by phone to those who we knew were vulnerable to check they were ok and offer them support to meet the basic needs they so desperately needed, as well as someone to talk to.

Whilst for some, remote service delivery has been challenging, for many it has been a lifeline.  The Hubs have supported people who have been in Bristol many years but chose not access face to face services.  The expansion of our services digitally has ensured continuity of reach to the wider communities and supported more individuals and families, keeping them connected with much-needed support services especially for those at risk of or experiencing domestic abuse, hate crime or other safety concerns. For Refugee Women of Bristol it has widened the safe space for women in the community to come together online to share experiences and learning, access key information including where and how to access emergency help if and when needed.

Working in partnership has given additional support to staff and made our staff and organisations more resilient to the crisis. Over the last four years, the Bristol Impact Fund has supported over 70 organisations and community groups in Bristol, aiming to reduce disadvantage and inequality, improve health and wellbeing, and increase resilience in the city. The application window for the second round of Bristol Impact Fund: Growing the Power of Communities launches next week and you can find more information here.

My letter to Bristol

Today marks a significant day for Bristol.

Twelve months ago, Bristol registered its first confirmed case of COVID-19 as the city began its response to the pandemic that has swept the globe.

Since Wednesday 3 March 2020, your efforts to protect lives, help the vulnerable, limit the spread of the virus and support one and other has been a source of city pride.

During that time over half a million tests have been taken with 29,500 positive cases being recorded.

This pandemic has affected our lives in different ways and tested every feature of our city from business to education, to transport to even elections.  It has been extremely challenging for all of us, but hit our most vulnerable communities hardest. We know that the underlying drivers of inequality will worsen. But we will do all we can to win support to protect jobs and urge government to front-load investment in green infrastructure to generate jobs and decarbonise the economy.

Despite these challenges we have faced, Bristol has responded and is rebuilding. Through a One City approach we are working together to organise the city to take challenges on. We have an incredible voluntary sector that has rallied around to support our most vulnerable residents. Through Can Do Bristol we’ve had 4,000 people pledge to help in their communities, and around 3,000 vulnerable residents have been supported with things like befriending, collecting shopping and prescriptions and dog walking.

We are all missing out on the things we love, and many of us have lost people we love as well. Sadly, 563 people in Bristol have tragically lost their lives to this virus over the last year. Each and every one of them will be remembered and to everyone who is grieving, I send my deepest condolences. I thank the faith leaders across the city for coming forward to reach out and support those would have had to face loss alone.

Our community testing programme over the last twelve months has seen over half a million tests taken, through rapid testing at workplaces and symptomatic testing at established Local Testing Sites. Now, as we look ahead to cautiously easing out of national lockdown restrictions from Monday 8 March, I ask you to be patient.

I know many people are looking forward to the coming months where national restrictions will begin to ease, particularly those who have sadly been unable to work and all of us who are desperate to see friends and family.

The speed of the roll-out of the national vaccination programme is an incredible testament to our NHS and healthcare colleagues and provides an important vision of hope for us. I’m pleased to see that over 100,000 people in Bristol alone have already had one dose of the vaccination. We will continue to support healthcare colleagues in this successful role out.

However, we must not throw twelve months of effort away now. We want this unlocking to be for the final time, no more lockdowns and no further restrictions. Achieving this is our personal responsibility. It is the actions of the individual that will determine whether this truly is the last lockdown needed.

We must take each step of this roadmap to easing restrictions one at a time, and only once the data and the impact of unlocking tells us it’s safe to do so, take another step to getting back to what we love.

If you need support, know that we are here for you. Our We Are Bristol helpline is open seven days a week on 0800 691 0184.

Thank you for all you are doing and have done over the last year – we will get through this together.

We Work for Everyone

Today’s guest blog is from Councillor Helen Holland, Labour Councillor for Hartcliffe and Withywood and Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care.

I was chatting to a local resident over the weekend who was telling me that his job disappeared at the beginning of the pandemic, but that he is now working as a Blood Delivery Driver. Then on one of my regular walks the other day, I saw an advertising hoarding with the fabulous #changelives campaign from BrunelCare, showing Ellie, one of their new recruits who has gone from Cabin Crew to careworker.

Two things occurred to me, one, that Covid has made everyone see what many of us already knew, that jobs in Health and Social Care are absolutely vital to us all, to our communities and to our economy, and secondly, that changing career, sometimes of necessity, sometimes by choice, really can open your eyes to new possibilities.

Working with our care providers, training organisations like the City of Bristol College, Skills for Care and the trade unions, we are determined to raise the profile of occupations in care, and make sure that we have the best workforce that we can as we move towards the post-Corona Virus world. Through our commissioning framework we are embedding our commitment to better terms and conditions for careworkers, and making sure that employees have access to training.

We also are working to strengthen community organisations who often provide the glue – through local activities, things like walking groups, choirs, knit and natter  groups  – that stick neighbourhoods together, and keep residents from isolation, and able to live in their own homes for longer.

I want to see a pathway too for people who find that they love working with people in those local organisations to open the door to care work, as one thing that is now more obvious to some, is that whatever advances there are in ‘tech enabled care’ we will always need people in these vital services.

It has been so rewarding to see that we have been able to attract more people into home care, and into social work, over the last year, and we want to see that continue.

While I am writing, I also want to mention the “We work for Everyone” project Ways to Work website for which the City Council with the other West of England authorities  have won £2.2m  from European Social Funds, and £1.2m from  WECA to deliver employment and training opportunities for people with learning disabilities and Autism.

Having worked in this field for many years myself, I am absolutely passionate about this project, and the chance for people to fulfil their potential through work. It is shocking that nationally only 5.7% of people with a learning disability are in work and we are going to do all we can to change that. We have some fantastic organisations in the city who already have a great deal of experience of doing this, with some brilliant results. I want to draw that experience into this project, to really make the best of the additional money. With navigators to support the work, we also want to hear from businesses who are keen to give everyone these opportunities, so please get in touch.

Get vaccinated

Today’s guest blog is from Ade Williams, Superintendent Pharmacist at Bedminster Pharmacy.

On 28th of January, Bedminster Pharmacy started providing COVID vaccinations at the Methodist Church on British Road. Our communities goodwill and generosity carried us through the door,  literally – especially after logistical challenges with our NHS supplies. 

Our team of volunteers, reminders of the great privilege of bringing this project into our special community. The good news is that the national vaccination programme is moving at great pace. People over 65 and those who are clinically extremely vulnerable are now being sent invitations to book online using the NHS website or calling 119. 

How quickly does the vaccine work? 

Protection starts 12-14 days after the first dose.  The second dose is crucial to get the best level of protection and longer-lasting protection, so it’s vital to come back for your second dose.

Which vaccine will I get and which is better?

You cannot choose which vaccine to have, so it’s crucial to have the vaccine you are offered. Remember whichever vaccine you are offered, has been shown to be safe and work well at preventing disease from the virus. The researches looking at effectiveness have measured them in different ways, so it isn’t necessarily helpful to compare them like for like. 

Does the vaccine contain animal products?

No. They do not contain any ingredients derived from pigs, cows or other animals.

I’m allergic to penicillin – can I have the coronavirusvaccine?

Yes, all of the available vaccines are safe if you are allergic to penicillin.

I’ve already had Covid-19, do I still need to get vaccinated?

Yes, it’s really important to get the vaccine, even if you’ve already had Covid-19. You may have some level of immunity if you’ve had the disease, but this varies and may not last long. 

Will I be able to pass on the virus to others if I’ve had the vaccine?

We don’t yet know for sure, so even after vaccination, it remains essential to follow guidelines around social distancing, hand washing and other guidance to stop the spread of coronavirus. You will also still need to self-isolate if you have symptoms or have been in contact with someone who has.

How much does the vaccine cost?

The vaccine is offered free on the NHS. It is not available privately so you can’t pay to get it sooner. Don’t fall for any scams offering it for cash.

With a 10-minute appointment journey including 3 minute contact time, we did not expect to experience such a flood of human experiences: birthday zoom calls, family pictures, tears, hugs and relief. Reminders that for many of the most vulnerable, the jab trip is their first outside for months.

Thanks to the collective effort and sacrifice making this possible. Every completed vaccination helps break down barriers, tackling hesitancy, bringing closer a time to meet with family and friends. The Bedminster Pharmacy’s ambition is to work with others; our GP surgeries and other NHS Clinicians to make it sooner. When your time comes, we will be ready for you too.

Rewilding College Green

To celebrate the one-year anniversary of climate activist Greta Thunberg’s visit to Bristol, this weekend the Bristol and Bath Parks Foundation are announcing their Rewilding Project for the enhancement of nature at College Green. These plans are only possible because of the £15,575 raised by the public after the Fridays for Future demonstration. The Bristol and Bath Parks Foundation became custodians of this fund, which is now being brought to life in partnership with Bristol Cathedral, Avon Wildlife Trust, Bristol Youth Strike 4 Climate and Bristol City Council.

College Green’s lawn was successfully reseeded over the last spring, so now the foundation plan to roll out their phased approach for further improving the green space. Working within the spring and winter planting seasons, their plan will encourage pollinating insects to thrive and plant life to absorb carbon emissions in the centre of the city.

Phase one, which will be initiated in April, involves creating seven wildflower meadows on a patch of rarely used lawn adjoining Bristol Cathedral. The meadows will be a planted with a mix of plant plugs from the Avon Wildlife Trust’s wildflower nursery and quick growing meadow turf. We can expect the meadows to flower two to three months after planting and offer colourful seasonal displays.

An information board explaining the importance of the meadows will be written and designed by Bristol Youth Strike 4 Climate, the youth-led organisation who arranged Greta Thunberg’s visit to Bristol last year. The site will continue to be maintained by the council with support from local volunteers. Further plans for phase one include planting a native hedgerow, bulbs and flowering trees in the autumn months.

The council is proud to be part of the work being undertaken, after declaring an Ecological Emergency last year in response to the escalating threats to wildlife and our ecosystems. While the coronavirus pandemic has rightly dominated the local and national conversation, the threat to the species which inhabit Bristol hasn’t gone away. In addition, the benefits of a sustainable, nature-rich city to the everyday lives of Bristolians are undeniable after the events of a year which has seen most people with even more time to enjoy Bristol’s many parks and green spaces. This project demonstrates that all of us – from individuals to large city organisations – can take effective actions which protect both people and planet.   

Artist’s impression – Bristol and Bath Parks Foundation

LGBT History Month

Today’s guest blog comes from members of Bristol City Council’s Staff LGBT+ group.

Community histories, much like local histories have a huge importance. A careful and accurate look at events which have directly affected a community, as well as a record of its collective achievements and success, provides two really important things. For those in the community, it gives a sense of origin, vital for a sense of belonging; and a sense of worth that is the foundation of self-esteem and values. The second is also a connection point for allies to engage with the community, the place where by learning the history they can strengthen their support and connection with the community. 

I’ve been very careful so far not to mention which community. I think what’s true is true for all communities; be they defined by location, or common interest. But particularly those communities whose voices are unrepresented. When you’re removed from history, it’s implied you have no voice in the present. The removal of local galleries, museums and libraries would cause outrage. Rightly so, but their necessity is the same necessity for both LGBT History month and of course Black History Month. 

History isn’t just an archive of facts and dates. Grievances, achievements and celebration. It’s living, incomplete and a vital connection point. When you watch a TV programme like It’s A Sin, Gentleman Jack or Pose; you can’t treat it as a history lesson per se, but it is the beginning of a conversation, maybe even an exploration into stories of people and groups you couldn’t otherwise know about. Stories that will hugely benefit us all. History month reminds us that it is not one simple narrative either but an intricate and complicated web of stories that overlap and diverge in furious chaotic patterns. That can be scary, I think that’s why the rise of nationalism here and abroad has been so effective. It only allows for one narrow brittle strand of history. That’s why our histories deserve their months – not because for the other eleven months we should be quiet and just recite the kings and queens of England – but to remind us to diverge from our mainstream and explore other communities and cultures. To find out the stories which didn’t make it into your Year 9 history lesson or The Crown. So my encouragement to you, is not to wait until it lands in your lap but go exploring and find out more about the people around you. 

Did you know that The Radnor Hotel on St Nicholas Street which opened in the 1920s was the first known gay pub in Bristol? 

Or, did you know that after the concentration camps were liberated in 1945, some men were re-imprisoned because homosexuality was still a crime? 

Did you know that Ireland was the first country in the world to hold a referendum, and collectively as a nation vote for marriage equality? 

Did you know that the Bristol Lesbian and Gay Switchboard was set up by Dale Wakefield in Totterdown in 1975?

You can find more information about local LGBT+ history at Outstories Bristol.

Bristol Pride marches through the city centre. Photo by Dan Regan. Via Visit Bristol

Cities and the Path to Net-Zero

On Wednesday, I joined a webinar organised by the Committee on Climate Change to discuss their recent report into the role local authorities need to play in delivering the government’s ambition to achieve “net zero” carbon emissions. The Committee is an independent, statutory body that advises the UK government on progress made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and on preparing for the impacts of climate change.

I have shared before that delivering carbon reductions in cities is crucial if we are to reduce harmful emissions and mitigate the impacts of climate change. So I am pleased that the Committee’s report recognises the central role local authorities have to play in reducing carbon emissions, highlighting that local government has power and influence over roughly a third of emissions in their local areas.

The report contains a number of recommendations for local authorities from developing climate action plans with delivery projects, improving knowledge of Green Finance mechanisms, and communication and engagement with local communities. As the first local authority to declare a Climate Emergency, I’m pleased that Bristol features throughout the report and a number of initiatives we are leading on like City Leap and the One City Climate Strategy are identified as good practice for other authorities to emulate.

I shared in the webinar, however, that if we’re to be successful in our ambition to make Bristol carbon neutral and climate resilient by 2030, we need urgent action and partnership from national government. Decarbonisation requires more than political will alone, it needs long term and reliable finance. We need billions of pounds of financial investment if we are to decarbonise the systems people rely on to heat their homes, power businesses and travel around the city and power. Unfortunately, more than a decade of austerity has stretched the backroom capacity in local authorities in crucial departments like planning, procurement and legal. These functions rarely make headlines, but without them it makes it difficult – if not impossible – to deliver the scale and pace of change we need.

This year provides a number of important opportunities for government to deliver this support, not least in November as the UK hosts the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26). This cannot simply be a platform for policy pronouncements by national governments – cities and local leaders need to be brought into decision-making processes, backed up with sustainable and innovative finance that supports cities and local government to deliver. Even more immediately, as attention turns to next week’s budget, I reiterate our call for the government to frontload green infrastructure investment such as, for example, retrofitting homes. This can ensure that we can deliver carbon reductions as part of our economic recovery from Covid-19, delivering social justice and environmental justice together.

If government follows Bristol’s lead in embedding the delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals in our economic recovery, we can ensure that we rebuild an economy that is climate resilient and more resistant to the financial and social upheavals that we have experienced over the past 12 months. We look forward to working together with local government, national government, and networks of cities across the world to deliver on that ambition.

You can watch the full event on YouTube below, and download slides from CCC’s website here.

Rough sleeping down by 80%

Figures published today suggest that the number of people sleeping rough in Bristol has fallen by around 80% in just over a year.

Our staff and city partners have, in unprecedentedly difficult circumstances, helped around 1,400 people in Bristol who were either rough sleeping or homeless into emergency and further accommodation. Our wrap-around services and support plans are under regular review, so that everyone has options to leave the streets.

The Council has confirmed that 21 people were recorded as sleeping rough in January 2021. This follows 50 people being recorded as sleeping rough during the city’s annual count in November, compared to 98 a year before. While this progress is much-needed, and a real testament to the hard work of everyone involved, there is still more to do. Homelessness is a complex issue but the simple truth remains that 21 people sleeping rough is 21 too many.

I set out more about how we are working to ensure that nobody is left behind, and everybody has somewhere safe to stay, in an article for the LGA Labour Group.

With more than 1,000 people currently living in emergency accommodation in Bristol, it is crucial that we continue to build on the solid foundations of some 9,000 new homes since 2016. Our thousands-strong pipeline of new council homes in place to continue to build a better Bristol.

If you are concerned about someone who is sleeping rough, you can make a referral via Streetlink.