Barnier, Brexit and Bristol

CC Bxls Meeting 2Yesterday, I travelled to Brussels with Core Cities leaders to meet with Michel Barnier, EU chief negotiator for Brexit.

After a pre-meeting with leaders in the morning, there was a presentation over lunch by the head of the European Policy Centre, a Brussels-based think tank. We then headed to the Commission Office to meet Barnier, who started with a presentation on the state of play and then listened to our views as city leaders.

Our Core Cities group then met Guy Verhofstadt MEP, the European Parliament’s Brexit lead. We had a valuable discussion and he suggested we hold a gathering of cities and a series of hearings with EU committees in the Parliament in the near future to consider the role and interests of cities in Brexit. We finished up with the reception in the Bristol Brussels Office with about 30 guests, MEPs, a variety of partners and University of Bristol alumni.CC Bxls Barnier

International networks of cities are engines of growth, sources of political stability and are indispensable to any hope of tackling the national and global challenges we face today. From climate change to inequality to migration and political legitimacy, cities are a solution in the midst of the current chaos.

Barnier said he is determined to find frameworks for future relations and that the challenges we face are better tackled together. And although he made it clear yesterday that his negotiations need to take place within a Westminster context, we hope that greater access to and traction with government will be a key outcome of the visit. We intend to open the door to possibilities available for cities that are not as accessible to national leaders and we look forward to holding a gathering of cities later this year.

Taking City Voices to Brussels

Today I met with Core City leaders ahead of our meeting with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels next Monday. We will be there ensuring the interests of people and businesses outside London are being heard.

On Thursday I visited Bristol engineering company Seetru. In the workshop, on the wall, they have photos of all the people who work there. They say the government are not listening to them, and that they have already lost orders. The consequences of a failure to listen could be very immediate for the Bristol families in those photos.

There is a deep irony in the way the UK government is approaching the Brexit negotiations. For many people the leave vote was partly about sending a message to the UK establishment, but the UK establishment has fallen into the trap of pursuing the negotiations to the exclusion of other voices. What is being pursued is a Brexit for Westminster rather than a Brexit for the UK. It’s one of the reasons we are in such danger of getting a poor outcome that will undermine Bristol’s and the UK’s economy.

We intend to open the door to possibilities available for cities that are not as accessible to national leaders. These could include bespoke city to city deals, individual citizen membership of the EU, protection of international research networks, the establishment of a joint cities commission made up of UK and European cities, or mitigations to ensure our police service is not undermined by the fragmentation of security arrangements.

My Core Cities colleagues and I will attend the European Commission Headquarters with the president of the European cities network, EUROCITIES, meaning roughly 200 urban centres will be represented at the meeting.

It is no small thing that we will be joined by Eurocities. This is an example of the solidarity of a wider movement across the world. A movement where cities are looking for opportunities to shape national and international policy in the face of national governments who are finding themselves limited in their ability to lead and deliver in the world the way it is.

Leeds CC Leaders 16.02.18

GKN Hostile Takeover

Last week I met with UNITE union representatives to discuss the potential hostile takeover of the UK engineering company GKN.

The GKN site in Filton, where I met the reps, employs 1,600 people and is an integral part of the aerospace supply chain in Bristol and the wider city region. We discussed the impact the hostile takeover would have for potential job losses and how they can organise against it.

31.01.18 3

Later in the week, UNITE reps came to the West of England Joint Committee meeting (for the leaders of North Somerset, South Gloucestershire, Bath and North East Somerset and Bristol Councils). It was unanimously agreed that a joint letter would be sent to Secretary of State Greg Clark requesting action in this matter of public interest.

The clear message is that a hostile takeover is unwanted by the workers, management and wider community. The campaign to stop it has cross-party and cross-border support and the government should step in to protect these jobs.

Our letter is below:

GKN Letter 1GKN Letter 2


Guest Blog: Deeds, Not Words

helen gtToday’s guest blog comes from my Cabinet lead for Women, Children and Young People, Helen Godwin.

This evening will see Park Street become a spectacle of purple and green as hundreds of Bristol’s women and girls, and we hope a significant number of men and boys, take to the street for the Suffragette Centenary Lantern Parade.

It is going to be a very special event, celebrating all of Bristol’s women and their achievements as well as acknowledging the contribution of Bristol’s suffragettes to the wider movement. Bristol was home to a number of influential women who played important roles in the fight for women’s suffrage. Women like Annie Kenny, Mary Sophia Allen and Theresa Garnett.

Of course, the successes of 1918 still left a significant number of younger and mainly working class women without the vote, and equality of suffrage was still ten years away.

It is a testament to the legacy of those great Bristolian suffragettes that we were named as one of just seven ‘Centenary Cities’, allowing us to work with others in the city to commemorate Bristol’s role in this great achievement on the path to gender equality with a brilliant programme of events throughout the year. The Lantern Parade will be the first in series of events under the banner of ‘Deeds, Not Words’ that will include exhibitions, awards, comedy and a celebration of women’s literature. I encourage you to look at the programme for the rest of the year to see what is planned.

Of course, equality at the ballot box has not ensured wider equality for women. It is hard to believe that 100 years on women are still fighting for equal pay and opportunity in work, equal representation in political institutions and to be free from sexual discrimination and of course, gender based violence.

For the reasons above I am honoured that the Mayor has asked me to add responsibility for women to my previous portfolio of children and young people. For all our young people to thrive we must see greater equality across the sexes, better focus on maternal mental health and wellbeing and an end to domestic violence and abuse. It is my intention and hope that 100 years on from the suffragette movement, our great city can work together to achieve these aims and true equality.

£9.6 million for housing in Bristol

A £9.686 million investment that will facilitate the delivery of more than 1,000 proposed new homes in Bristol was announced last week following our successful government funding bids, submitted with our partners in the West of England combined authority.

It was great to hear on Thursday that the council had been successful in two bids for funding to unlock housing delivery in the Southmead and Lockleaze areas, from the government’s Housing Infrastructure Fund.

This funding will enable us to develop and bring forward regeneration plans that are desperately needed in these areas.

There has long been a lack of housing diversity in the Lockleaze and Southmead areas in terms of the kinds of housing available and tenure.

Funding of £6.686 million has been awarded to the Unlocking Lockleaze Development project and it is proposed that this will support investment in sustainable transport infrastructure improvements locally, which will in turn support the delivery of more than 800 new homes in line with local community and council ambitions.

A further £3 million will go to the proposed Arnside and Glencoyne Square Regeneration, which is supported by the Southmead Development Trust. This funding will support the delivery of up to 300 new homes as part of this project by helping to provide improvements to the shopping area, green spaces and drainage systems.

Plans to bring forward both proposed schemes are to be considered for approval over the coming months.

We have a huge local demand for homes so I am delighted that the government has recognised that need, with this funding allocation. This news demonstrates how we are working with the city and the government on our ambitious target to deliver 2,000 new homes, including 800 affordable homes, per year by 2020.


Behind the Scenes at the Bristol Old Vic

“Bristol, Bristol the city that was built on the bricks of heroic hardship.

“Bristol, Bristol the place of dreams and possibilities the place of creative aspirations, culture, commerce and its own seductive music.

“Bristol, Bristol a place still haunted by the ancestral ghost that echoes the historical hangover that yet sobered us up to what time hasn’t changed.”

These are the words of my good friend Miles Chambers, Bristol’s first City Poet, describing a city of contrasts. On the one hand we’re a booming city with a reputation as being a capital for culture and a centre for the arts. On the other hand, we’re a city where poverty and hardship are commonplace with communities struggling to share in the benefits our growing economy offers.

Cultural organisations must play a part in addressing the disconnect between opportunity and communities and Bristol Old Vic is trying to do so. A prominent and renowned centre for culture, the theatre sits at the heart of Bristol’s international cultural offer and is currently undergoing a major refurbishment to its iconic structure.

MR Old Vic 3Last week I had the privilege of a guided ‘hard-hat’ tour of the site and an opportunity to speak to the people behind the scenes about their plans and how they continue to develop an internationally acclaimed theatre programme that their community work sits around.

Many will know the Bristol Old Vic’s work in putting on major stage productions but there is another side to their work that brings communities to their offer and is fed by the success of their stage programme.

This work taps directly into developing communities and people and reflects an organisation and leadership that understands the challenges our city faces in building a place where everyone’s experience is one of hope and ambition.

This community work they undertake along with that of others in the cultural sector plays a big role in our shared vision of a city where everyone benefits from the success of our arts and culture sector. Whilst as a council we continue to provide what funds we can to the sector we recognise that shrinking budgets mean a greater need for the city to rise and throw its support behind these organisations.MR Old Vic 1

What we need now are for businesses and individuals to consider what they can do to drive change in the city and engage in the cultural sector to explore opportunities to grow our communities. Those interested in being part of our journey should come forward; have a conversation, write an email, share a donation with these groups and be part of combating inequality and breaking down the barriers to opportunity.

We have an ambition of narrowing the social and economic divisions in our city.   I am delighted the Old Vic is sharing that ambition and I look forward to continuing our city partner relationship.



Holocaust Memorial Day 2018

IMG_3522Tomorrow, Saturday 27 January, is Holocaust Memorial Day.

We remember the Holocaust to serve as a statement to all generations that the brutality, tragedy and loss, that had its roots in prejudice, can never be repeated.

We continue to remember the events of over 70 years ago because we must keep alive the memory of the Holocaust and the actions of the Nazis across Europe, to ensure the world never stops learning the dangers of prejudice, anti-semitism and all forms of racism. Six million Jewish people were killed in the holocaust, and many kept in the shocking conditions of death camps across Europe, including Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland, the largest of the Nazi concentration camps.

27 January marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and is the date that we remember not just the victims of Nazi genocide but also subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda and Darfur.

I spoke today at the Holocaust Memorial Day Civic Commemoration Event at City Hall, organised by the Bristol Holocaust Memorial Day Steering Group.

I was pleased I could spend time honouring the victims and survivors of these regimes of hatred. We must continue to challenge ourselves to learn the lessons of their experience to inform our lives today, to challenge racism and discrimination wherever we find it.

Holocaust memorial Day recognises the development of genocide. We can see it is a process that starts with discrimination, with racism and with hatred. If not checked or challenged, it cannot be prevented.

The theme of this year’s Holocaust memorial Day is the power of words and many will be familiar with the powerful stories of the survivors of genocide. It’s also an opportunity to ensure we are careful with words, to educate others and ensure that even the most casual of racist language is challenged for what it is.

Young Carers Awareness Day

IMG_0847It’s Young Carers Awareness Day today, a day to pause and recognise these incredible young people and the enormous impact they have on the people around them.

The focus this year is on raising awareness of mental health amongst young carers and those who support them.

Yesterday I met a group of young carers who are working hard to make people aware of the struggles that they regularly deal with.

These brave young people – who are mostly under 18 and still in education – have the immensely challenging task of looking after a friend or family member who needs some form of care. This might be down to illness, disability, mental health issues, or misuse of drugs or alcohol.

Providing this care is a huge responsibility for anyone to take on, particularly for someone so young, and it can be detrimental to their education and mental health. National studies have found that around a quarter of young carers end up missing school and homework deadlines, with 68 per cent found to have been victims of school bullying. As a result, more than 40 per cent of young carers suffer some kind of mental health impact.IMG_0860

It was a humbling experience to meet the group of Bristol young carers who came to look around City Hall with me yesterday evening. They showed me some of the fantastic posters they have designed about mental health awareness, many of which were based on their own experiences with motivating tips for how to manage the struggles they face. I was saddened to learn that only an estimated 50 per cent of young carers nationwide have a person in their school that recognises they are a carer, and helps them.

It is therefore vital that we raise the profile of young carers and the issues they face, so they can get the support that they need. Despite all the challenges they deal with on a daily basis, the carers I met were really positive and were passionate about spreading the message that it is okay to talk about how you feel.

To support this call for awareness the Carers Support Centre will be sending these inspirational posters out to local schools, as part of our Young Carers in Schools programme, and I encourage all to consider what they can do to support this incredible group of young people.

If you want to find out more about the support young carers can get, please contact Carers Support Centre.

Young Carers Poster Collage

Protecting Services in the Face of Austerity

Today’s guest blog comes from my Deputy Mayor, Craig Cheney.


Despite the on-going challenge of the rising costs of adult social care and slashed government funding, we are pleased to be able to present a budget for this year, that minimises any reduction in services and protects the most vulnerable in our city.

Since the government imposed austerity measures seven years ago the council has had to save £200 million, with a further £80 million needing to be found by 2022/3. This has huge implications for the city and the people who live here.

The increasing demands for caring for the elderly, disabled and children means the costs of these services will rise significantly this year, as in previous years. In total these services represent approximately 60% of the council’s budget – meaning that funding for other services like leisure, highways, parks, etc. continue to be squeezed.

The government has yet to announce any further funding to deal with this social care crisis, beyond passing on tax rises to councils, called a ‘poor tax’ by some.

Despite the Conservative government continuing to hit local people for the government’s own failings in dealing with the social care crisis, we have worked incredibly hard this year to limit its impact on Bristol, instead focussing on how the council does things, how we work with the city and how we can generate more income which we can then spend on services.

The Government has reduced the council’s funding to a staggering degree and has dumped the financial burden for delivering the services we all need onto local taxpayers. This is not a problem which goes away soon. However, we have delivered a budget that sees us defending front-line services, protecting the most vulnerable and means we have a plan that delivers this for the next four years. This administration is absolutely committed to driving a city of hope and aspiration and continuing to deliver on our promises to Bristol.


In The Arena

We will deliver and build an arena for Bristol.  That is a straightforward matter of fact, and it is absolutely my intention to ensure that work commences at the earliest possible opportunity. We must have an arena that will bring the biggest acts and best performances to the city, adding to our cultural, sport and overall city offer.  A major city needs certain features to be considered a leading city and Bristol has historically failed to deliver them.  We have no mass transit system, we haven’t modernised all of our key retail areas, our train station is the last major rail hub to not be modernised and we don’t have state of the art transport hubs. And we don’t have an arena of size.

I want to watch the best performances and events around, in Bristol. From the best bands and musical performances to  world championship boxing and premier league darts, we must be a go to city that’s ‘on the tour’.

However, it is also a straightforward matter of fact, that I have responsibility to ensure the city does not make a decision it may regret for the next 75 years.

The first time the former Mayor talked about an arena, Temple Quarter was set as the location and the price tag was £79million. The first published cost set at £91million and then £95million quickly afterwards.

By the time I was elected Mayor, my first update on the arena showed the cost at £123million and rising, potentially with substantial risk. All of this was set against a backdrop of us having £53million money from the government through the Local Enterprise Partnership, and the rest had to be funded by the city, one way or another.

In addition, I inherited no transport plan associated with the arena and the papers were predicated on the assumption everyone would arrive by train, bike or on foot. There were more places set aside for bicycles than car park spaces. This meant the financial position couldn’t be eased though the kind of parking related income streams that have been pivotal to making other city arenas financially possible.

As is publicly known, we could not agree a price with the initial building company.  As a result, we went to the company who had finished second in the original procurement process. We signed a pre-construction agreement, and they began work to finalise a price and agree the commencement of the work. That work is ongoing and is of course, commercially confidential. At the same time, we have received an offer from a private company to build an arena with their own money on their own land with the option of us taking a financial stake in that project.

This would need infrastructure work around transport and access that we would carry out with public money but the private company would build the arena.

It would be unwise not to now explore both these options more fully. That is what we are doing.  It has been said that not building the arena on the site known as Arena Island would be a betrayal of the city. I say it would be a greater betrayal to mishandle the people of Bristol’s money and launch into a relationship we regretted for the next 30+ plus years.

I have commissioned a value for money report and am considering an options appraisal. We must know whether the prices put forward for the arena are value for money for the build itself. And this needs to be assessed against alternate locations and alternative uses of the site and the relative benefit the various combinations would have on the wider economy. Unfortunately, this work had not been done. It is being done now.

I am surprised leading city figures are making pronouncements on the arena without the facts. Emotion cannot play a part in the decision and the outcome must be evidence based so we can be sure of the economic impact and the consequences for City Council finances.

I am working through the evidence and working towards a better and more affordable outcome for Bristol. Plans have been developed for an arena since 1997 and too often, have gone backwards at key points.

We are now closer than ever before and I will ensure we make the right decisions for the city. We will build the Bristol Arena.