The importance of aid

One of my first jobs was with Tearfund, a leading UK charity working to end poverty around the world. I met fellow development workers and the people whose lives were changing for the better, and was inspired to support Jubilee 2000’s campaign for debt relief for the world’s poorest countries. British aid can be a truly powerful force for good, as we saw last year after a cyclone destroyed 90% of Beira, Bristol’s twin city in Mozambique.

Some say that charity starts at home. That’s a perfectly valid point of view, and a sentiment which people will no doubt have added sympathy for in times as tough as these. But Bristolians will struggle to believe that is the approach of this Government, who just weeks ago refused to feed hungry children in Bristol and across the UK during the October half-term.

Like the Prime Minister dissolving the Department for International Development within two months of taking office, cutting international aid is a short-sighted and backward step. The current legislation sets our contribution at 0.7% of Gross National Income: rising when the economy grows, and falling when it contracts. In the midst of a crisis like the current pandemic, that makes sense – but the Government has instead chosen to cut aid spending by almost three-times the forecasted fall in the UK’s economy.

Nor is this a party political issue. Government Ministers who understand the economic logic of ‘aid then trade’ have resigned over this. A Conservative former Secretary of State for International Development has warned that these cuts risk pushing more people into extreme poverty and – by reducing childhood immunisations and scaling back healthcare investments which stop women from dying in childbirth – contributing to 100,000 preventable deaths around the world.

Through international networks like the Mayors’ Migration Council and Global Parliament of Mayors, and in partnership with the C40, we work together with cities from every continent to tackle common challenges. For a city like Bristol – with nearly 100 languages spoken and home to communities hailing or descending from places all over the world – the global is often not just local but personal and so, for many Bristolians, this announcement will be too.

Libraries in Lockdown

Today’s blog comes from Cllr Asher Craig, Deputy Mayor with responsibility for communities, equalities and public health.

This year has presented many challenges. For our library service, the challenge has been to adapt as government advice changes, and continue to provide a service that has always been about more than just books.

Despite being physically closed for much of this year, the library service moved very swiftly online, resulting in a huge increase in the uptake of e-books and a surge in attendance at online events.

As part of our commitment to the future of libraries, we had already begun the process of modernising our libraries, meaning the team were in a great position to offer people a wide variety of online events and resources to help keep people entertained at home. We launched a children’s story time and online book clubs, alongside virtual quizzes and a virtual Lego club.

However, we recognise that not everyone is able to access online services. The digital divide seemed wider than ever this year, which is why we prioritised the resumption of our call-and-collect service at the  Central Library, as well as a number of local libraries.

Our Stories at Home initiative saw thousands of books gifted to families through food clubs and foodbanks across Bristol, and made available for collection at specific Nursery Schools, Children’s Centres and Primary Schools. For those unable to leave their homes, there were doorstep drops, enabled by our Family Support workers, teachers and the Bristol City Robins Foundation.

This was a collective effort involving our Early Years team, our Children’s Centres, Feeding Bristol and our Learning City team. Huge thanks to Debbie Miles for coordinating and to all those who made this happen, including those organisations that generously donated more than 8,000 books. They included publishers, charities and other organisations such as the Book Trust, Hargreaves Lansdown and Phoenix Comics.

Thanks too to staff in our library services, who have faced considerable uncertainty this year, like so many of us.  Many of the team were redeployed to help in the council’s efforts to respond to the pandemic. They found themselves in teams as varied as parks, bereavement services and business support. We could not have done all that we did this year without them.

Looking to the end of lockdown, we will reopen carefully and review regularly as we return to a tiered system. Whilst we are keen to resume services, we remain mindful of the need to safeguard our staff, as well those residents who use the facilities.

Finally, you may have spotted an exciting new addition to the skyline in Fishponds – a giant owl has perched on Fishponds Library! The owl was created in partnership with Upfest and local Bristol artist Tom Habben, who have brought to life quotes from some of Bristol’s favourite books. I hope you’ll agree it brings a little bit of joy to this difficult year.

Bristol Older People’s Forum

Today’s blog comes from Cllr Asher Craig, Deputy Mayor and Cabinet Member for Communities, Equalities, and Public Health, and Labour Councillor for St George West.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of speaking at Bristol Older People’s Forum (BOPF) Webinar. Here is an abridged version of my keynote speech. The full speech can be downloaded below.

An update on Covid-19 in Bristol (figures accurate as of 24 November – latest figures here)

We are currently seeing 390.2 new cases per 100,000 people (based on provisional data to 19th November). We have a local engagement board which meets weekly; our citywide volunteering platform, Can Do Bristol, now has over 9,000 volunteers; and we also have 16 Covid marshals. Thank you to the Bristol Older People’s Forum – I will say I really love your newsletter. It’s really informative and that helps us get the information out to your members. We are also one of the local authorities that the government has asked to be a part of the rapid lateral flow mass testing. We are still waiting on the 10,000 tests, but this will help us break the chains of transmission.

The impact of Covid-19 on our vulnerable communities

Older people – Between January and June 2020, the number of people aged 50+ claiming unemployment benefits increased by nearly 90%.

Disabled people – in the under-65 age group, the most disabled men and women are 6.5 and 11.3 times more likely to die than their non-disabled counterparts. The pandemic has also had a strain on support services.

BAME – 17% more likely to die of Covid and are also more likely to live in overcrowded housing than white households.

Low income – around 5% of families in the city have experienced moderate to severe food insecurity over the last 12 months.

Women – 80% of social care jobs are filled by women.

16-24 year olds – higher rate of furlough with 44% of eligible employment, compared to 31% for all ages.

Bristol’s Response to the Black Lives Matter Movement

The History Commission will be expanded out to look at the history of the city when it comes to women, poverty and many other communities. Bristol has a lot of rich history that we have been denied and it’s time for us to set the record straight so that our children and our city know who Bristol is and how we got to where we are.

We have pressed the reset button on our Commission on Race Equality and hired a new commission leader, Professor Olivette Otele, in May. The aim is to provide leadership with regards to race relations moving forward.

Disability Equality Commission

This is being established in recognition of the inequalities faced by disabled people in the city. The commission will consider the experiences and position of disabled people in Bristol and will develop strategic plans to tackle inequality. We will be going out and engaging with the Bristol Older People’s Forum and disabled people across the city. We hope to launch in Spring 2021 when it will be handed over to a disability organisation in Bristol.

Thank you.

A zoo fit for the future

At Bristol Zoo with my Mum and my foster-cousin Lawrence in the summer of 1974

Bristol Zoo forms part of many Bristolians’ childhood memories. Some people will fondly remember watching Wendy the elephant stroll round the iconic gardens. Some may even remember seeing Wendy’s predecessor Rosie, or even Alfred the gorilla who delighted soldiers during WW2.

Opened in 1836, Bristol Zoo was founded at a time when people had a huge curiosity in animal science, but very little understanding of conservation. Today’s world is very different to then, and we now balance our inquisitive nature alongside the importance of animal welfare and the protection of endangered species.

Evolving with the times often includes making difficult decisions, and I commend Bristol Zoo for tackling this challenge head-on. Faced with continued financial strain, there really were only two choices; close for good, or take the bold decision to move to a more sustainable location with improved facilities for the animals and a better offer for visitors. I’m really thankful they chose the latter, and that future generations will be able to continue to locally learn about conservation.

The move also presents Bristol with a unique opportunity to develop homes on the site, and I am reassured about the Zoo’s commitment not only to working with the council, but also ensuring that any potential developer understands the need to retain and protect the gardens, only builds where buildings have stood, and includes affordable housing on the site – something which is hard to come by in Clifton.

At the moment, the majority of visitors to the zoo travel by car, bringing traffic straight through the city centre and posing difficulties with parking. We will work closely with the zoo, transport operators, and South Gloucestershire Council to find sustainable transport options for visitors to the new Bristol Zoo once it relocates and opens at the Wild Place Project site.

I myself look forward to visiting the new Bristol Zoo with my family for many years to come, and thank the zoo for its continued commitment to doing the very best for the city, and the animals we all love.

At Bristol Zoo with my cousin Anthony and my foster-cousin Lawrence in the summer of 1974

An under-reported crisis

Figures today show that the UK is facing a deeper recession than we did after the Spanish Flu and the First World War. The 11.3% drop in GDP forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility would the worst in 300 years. But these economic numbers hide a deeper crisis being faced by many people across Bristol. The Resolution Foundation recently highlighted the scale of this hidden challenge which, facing households rather than the Treasury, has been under-reported.

Half of renters do not have enough savings to cover more than a month of lost income. People with less than £1,000 of savings are two-and-a-half times more likely to have spent them during the pandemic than those with £20,000 or more. And people with the lowest incomes are much likelier to have had to borrow to survive. Debt and poverty are rising while income and savings fall. In short: the poorest 20% of Britain has been disproportionately hit by the current crisis – on top of the increase in children living in poverty since 2012. Instead of putting an emergency brake on the minimum wage and public sector pay, as he has chosen to do today, the Chancellor should have given a break to people struggling during this emergency.

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who launched the Alliance for Full Employment that I am proud to be a founding member of, called for national Government to cancel plans to scrap the £20 Universal Credit bonus – which risks taking £1,000 a year away from Britain’s 500,000 poorest families. He is also lobbying for Westminster to take action to raise child benefits, which were uprated together with tax credits from 1997-2010. These moves, together with our successful campaign to extend furlough, would have given hope to people seeing today’s spending review on the news tonight. These changes would have been crucial in laying the foundations to rebuild a better Bristol where nobody is left behind.

The Resolution Foundation also calculates the Living Wage Foundation rate, which we are proud to pay as a local council Our work continues to make Bristol a Living Wage City, despite the difficult economic outlook. Protecting and creating jobs, alongside support to ensure that people do not fall through the cracks, has never been more important. It remains incumbent on the Government to work more closely with, listen to, and empower local leaders on the ground in our cities and regions.

International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls

Today’s guest blog is from Carol Metters, CEO of Next Link Housing who provide specialist domestic abuse services for women and children in Bristol.

Today is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls and prioritising addressing violence against women could not be more important, particularly as we struggle to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. We knew before Covid-19 that domestic abuse was a global issue experienced by women and girls in every country around the world.

Covid-19 has put this into sharp focus with reports coming out of every country fighting the virus showing there was a huge spike in domestic abuse while people were under lockdown. This was echoed by the World Health Organisation saying that all types of violence against women and girls particularly domestic abuse has intensified under Covid-19 so much so they are calling domestic abuse a “shadow pandemic”.

This reflects Next Link’s experience. When lockdown ended we saw a 30% increase in referrals. Many of the women seeking help had experienced an increase in the violence, more were complex cases, most had mental health issues and many of the children were withdrawn. As Covid restrictions change we continue to see more victims contacting us for help.

I thought he would kill me and nobody would know

Quote from a woman who escaped during lockdown

With the support of our passionate staff, extra funding and the generosity of the general public we have remained open throughout the pandemic and have been able to support all the women that asked for our help. All our services continue to be up and running and able to support women to rebuild their lives free from the fear of violence.

After working in the domestic abuse field for 21 years I am retiring at the end of this year. When I reflect on the journey that domestic abuse has been during that time I can see that as a city we have made great strides in how we respond to those who need help.  When we set up Next Link in 1999 we had one safe house and no community or specialist service and victims told us when they asked others for help the were often not believed or made to feel it was their fault.  

Now there is much greater awareness of the issue and its impact on women and children’s lives and a recognition that victims need to be believed and their support has to be trauma informed and client led.

We also have a wide range of services that we can offer including:

  • Community support for those who want to remain in their home and remove the perpetrator
  • Safe housing for those that need to flee
  • Crisis support for those in immediate risk
  • Support for children
  • A 24-hour helping for women who just want to talk about their situation and know their options
  • Dedicated services for BAME women
  • Pattern changing groups
  • Access to our services through dedicated workers based at their GP practices and at A&E in hospitals

They can call us on a 24/7 helpline to talk their situation through and find out what their options are or use live chat, text or email. 

Me and the kids are laughing again, I never thought I would see that!

Quote from a woman who came into a safe house run by Next Link

As well as a greater understanding of the issue and more services being available I have seen, particularly over the last five years a real commitment from the city to tackle domestic abuse in all its forms. Being able to participate in the Mayor’s Commission on Domestic abuse has been inspiring and I feel it will produce real and meaningful change that will make Bristol a leading city in addressing domestic abuse.

We know that domestic abuse is on the increase and there is still much to do to ensure all women and children are safe and everyone has a role to play.

Over the years it’s been an honour and a privilege to work with such passionate committed people and I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to meet such courageous survivors.

If you are experiencing domestic abuse you can contact Next Link or the National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247. If you are in an emergency situation please call 999. You can find more information on how to support someone who may be experiencing domestic abuse is available on the “Are You OK?” pages of the Keeping Bristol Safe Partnership website.

Levelling up

The current Government has made various commitments to ‘levelling up’ the country. Defining what this means in practice remains unclear, but we know the UK is by some measures the most geographically unequal developed economy in the world, driven by a system where power is centralised in Westminster.

Earlier today, I gave evidence on this subject to a select committee of MPs who are holding an inquiry on levelling up and role of local and regional structures, particularly in the delivery of economic growth.  

I joined witnesses including other elected Mayors as well as representatives from the Northern Powerhouse; Midlands Engine; the UK 2020 Commission as well as Katherine Bennett, the chair of the Western Gateway, a cross-border economic partnership in which Bristol plays a key role.

We know that this inequality also applies at a city level. Here in Bristol, some of our most deprived areas border the most wealthy. The uneven impact of Covid and effects of lockdown on our communities also cruelly demonstrated the contrasts and shows the importance of tackling these inequalities.

Any national policies focused on ‘levelling up’ should be about investment in all areas of the country, and we need to move beyond seeing it as a competition for funding between places.

Every place needs investment to ensure no communities miss out on resulting opportunities – whether from infrastructure development, investing in education, skills and training or supporting local R&D.

This will be particularly critical as the country leaves the EU transition period. With no clarity on the future of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund and time ticking, it is vital the Government ensure any replacement of EU funds is targeted effectively. It should be done in a way that enables us as local leaders to address social inequality in our local places, not a top-down approach from Whitehall.

As the country moves into its Covid-recovery and the challenges ahead, the focus on communities and impacted populations should be at the heart of any ‘levelling up’ programme.

City authorities already have the relationships with local businesses and citizens to help identify our key local priorities. But ensuring we’re sustainably funded and resilient enough to help drive this work is going to be critical. 

Any funding for ‘levelling up’ should also be focused on developing local skills and supporting re-training opportunities as well as investment in areas like public transport that will ultimately help people across the city and wider region access jobs and opportunities.

I also called on central Government to engage more regularly with the ‘core cities’ to ensure any policy measures are delivered appropriately and meet the needs of our areas. We already know the UK has much lower productivity amongst its large cities when compared to other countries. Power must shift from London to regional cities to enable us to determine our own future, working alongside our city partners. 

It is only through such collaboration that central Government will be able to ensure it delivers a comprehensive and equal approach in its ambitions on ‘levelling up’ all regions of the UK.

You can view the oral evidence session at the BEIS Select Committee here.

Teaching us a thing or two: the Youth Design Challenges Awards

Yesterday, I had the honour of presenting awards at the Global Goals Centre Youth Design Challenges Awards (sponsored by the Steve Sinnott Foundation). I was also joined by Mya-Rose Craig, a young birder, environmentalist and campaigner; Cllr Jos Clark, the Lord Mayor; and Jenny Foster, who is the Global Goals Centre Co-Founder and Project Lead.

The challenge posed to young people across the city was to design a fun, interactive space for people to discover the social and environment impacts of the fashion industry, and to also find positive ways to respond. The challenge links to the Global Goals Centre’s aim to create the world’s first immersive visitor and education centre in Bristol to bring the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals to life.

The SDGs are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and improve the lives and prospects of everyone, everywhere. They comprise 17 goals which were adopted by all UN Member States in 2015, as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which set out a 15-year plan to achieve the Goals. In Bristol, we have adopted these goals into our One City approach, so that all we do is measured against them. Delivering against the SDGs is part of our global responsibility in an interdependent world.

I am delighted to share the work of the winners with you on my blog today.

Esme Green and Zach Platt, from Westbury Park Primary, dazzled the judges with their ideas of a climbing wall where you discover a new fact as you climb up; using the floor to show key messaging as you step on it; an interactive globe; and a mending circle to preserve the life of your clothes.

Martha Pykett, from Cotham School, swept to victory with her idea for a patch station to design and print a patch on a 3D-printer to mend clothes, and going inside a massive t-shirt to start your journey of discovery about fashion.

I must also mention entrants whose ideas were ‘Highly Commended’ by the judges and were just pipped to the post:

  • Ameerah Ntege
  • Daisy Dimbleby
  • Esme Jones
  • Hannah Sykes
  • Olivia Ellis
  • West of England Centre for Independent Living Youth Group

It was an amazing opportunity to be a part of these awards, celebrating young people’s innovation and creativity. The young people of Bristol are not just the next leaders, the next big thinkers, and the next creative masterminds of our city and of our world – they have a say right now. Decisions that are made today affect their generation now and in the future: their voices matter, their  engagement with the Sustainable Development Goals matters, and their contribution to us building a fairer, healthier, and more sustainable world does too.

Thank you to the Global Goals Centre for inviting me to present the awards and congratulations to all of the inspiring young people who took part. I can’t wait to see what you come up with next! To find out more about the Global Goals Centre and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, visit

Liveable Neighbourhoods

Today’s guest blog is from Councillor Kye Dudd, Cabinet Member for Transport, Energy, and the Green New Deal and Labour Councillor for Central ward.

In 2020, most of us have stayed closer to home – while our incredible keyworkers have continued to go into their places of work. This has highlighted the importance of our local high streets and green spaces, as well as streets which most of us are now likelier to be walking or cycling along, rather than using our cars as working and shopping habits continue to evolve into the future.

Inspired by what I saw with my cabinet colleague Councillor Nicola Beech on a working visit to Waltham Forest in recent years, and what has already been delivered in parts of Bristol, we are working to make our neighbourhoods more people-friendly with less traffic on local streets. Other councils have experimented in making residential roads access only, tackling cut-throughs and rat-runs. Elements of this approach can already been seen in the Dings, Bedminster, and Easton. All plans will of course follow talking to local communities about what might work best for them, building on the approach we have taken to invest even more in public transport and active travel in response to the pandemic – including the pedestrianisation of the Old City. By everyone working together, and driving only where necessary, the cleaner air and reduced congestion which we have enjoyed over recent months can become a permanent feature, as we work hard to build back better.

Officers have been tasked with working up a project plan for Liveable Neighbourhoods, as we begin to pilot the concept by working together with different communities. The potential displacement of traffic onto arterial routes, which will increasingly benefit from bio-gas buses and public transport infrastructure, also of course needs to be considered too. That said, this philosophy has already been successful in the form of School Streets, which closed roads near some schools during pick-up and drop-off time to improve air quality and encourage families to walk and cycle more – with all the health benefits this can bring. We will also be expanding that project as soon as possible, working in partnership with Councillor Helen Godwin.

More widely, we are aware of long-standing parking pressures in parts of the city. Residents Parking Zones (RPZs) were controversial from the start and have a mixed record. They arguably do little to tackle pollution, do nothing to improve public realm, do nothing to enhance active or public travel, and risk entrenching car ownership within Bristol. They also appear to displace, rather than solve, parking issues – turning transport policy into a game of whack-a-mole which risks ever-spreading from the city centre. RPZs were a twentieth century solution that didn’t ever work very well and they are not the solution to twenty first century travel challenges.

We surveyed residents in Bishopston/St Andrews and in Bedminster/Southville/Ashton as part of considering additional interventions and the outcome leads us to believe that Liveable Neighbourhoods should be considered as part of the solution. Some streets in the former, bordering with the existing Redland RPZ, have demonstrated support to move towards being included into that scheme and adding them to the existing RPZ may be the solution, while a much wider area supports expanded junction protection through double-yellow lines on corners. For the latter, junction protection is again the preferred option as well as support for tackling the additional pressure of match-day parking for events at Ashton Gate, which we are working on with Bristol Sport. I have instructed officers to work up a timeline to deliver interventions in these areas and will be writing to residents’ groups to set out next steps for these and pilots of Liveable Neighbourhoods.

Car ownership in Bristol has historically been high but pre-pandemic bus passenger numbers were growing steadily. Unlike London, with its impressive and historic underground, our public transport has lagged behind. We inherited a transport system which nobody would have designed from scratch and which has seen decades of missed opportunities for investment. We are continuing to deliver a reliable, affordable alternative to cars through our landmark Bus Deal, a ring of Park & Rides, new train stations and a radically improved Temple Meads, improved active travel, and continuing to develop our low-carbon mass transit plans with our neighbours. Without a proper mass transit system, and despite continued progress towards increased cycling, Bristolians have for too long had too little alternative to private cars. While private cars will be with us for some time and are one mode of people movement, Liveable Neighbourhoods present a chance to rethink and reset where we live. As we work to double the city’s tree canopy, reduce pollution and cut commuting times, Liveable Neighbourhoods presents a real opportunity to build a better Bristol with more trees, more car clubs, and a better quality of life for everyone.

Together, we can make Bristol an even better place to live and – without a doubt – to travel within.

Clapping in spring, freezing in winter

There is no doubt that keyworkers in Bristol right across the public sector deserve a meaningful pay rise – rather than the freeze being discussed ahead of the Chancellor’s spending review on Wednesday.

Our care workers continue to look after the most vulnerable, police officers have patrolled our streets and, after building new temporary hospitals, our armed forces will surely support the logistics of rolling out any vaccine. Yet reports now appear that after clapping keyworkers in the spring, the Government will be cutting their wages in real terms this winter.

We all know just how much pressure is on family finances in Bristol. While many Bristolians have struggled to make ends meet, while the Government has mulled plans to freeze the minimum wage. This in spite of the Financial Times reporting that two million UK employees were paid less than the legal minimum wage in April – five times more than the year before – because the least paid were most likely to be furloughed. Workers and industries continue to cry out for more support, which we hope will be comprehensively resolved when new tiers are announced later today.

For all their talk of not returning to austerity, and with councils facing a funding gap of billions due to broken promises during the pandemic, this Government risks repeating the economic mistakes of austerity – and making some five million people worse off in the process.