Supporting small businesses from the Outset

A few weeks ago, I accepted the ‘Best Overall Small Business Friendly Council’ award from the regional branch of the Federation of Small Business (FSB) on behalf of Bristol City Council. This week, I want to highlight more of the work being done to support small businesses, start-ups and entrepreneurs in Bristol.

Last week at Filwood Green Business Park I attended the South Bristol Business Breakfast. Discussion amongst the 25 or so businesses there centred on planned workspace developments in Hengrove, Filwood Broadway and Cater Road Business Park. We also spoke of a new Enterprise Support and Workspace Project, starting soon with funding from the European Union and West of England Combined Authority (WECA). I’m looking attend similar events in other parts of the city.

Yesterday was a Celebration of Entrepreneurship event, organised by Outset Bristol to mark ten years of their support to local businesses. Bristol City Council has worked closely with Outset over those ten years, helping people to set up new businesses and supporting existing businesses to grow.

Over its ten years, it has been clear that Outset has a real passion and commitment for promoting an enterprise culture across the city, advancing the social and geographic reach of support programmes.

Recent research by the Black South West Network (BSWN) set out to map the BAME business community in Bristol and to understand the barriers to growth and sustainability that it faces. The main findings of this research identified a range of barriers to BAME enterprise. Addressing these barriers, including access to finance, support services, bureaucracy and networking, will form part of actions for a growing and inclusive economy. The City Fund is also looking at supporting entrepreneurship in deprived communities.

The latest joint project between us and Outset, has helped over 30 new businesses to set up in just 18 months and has a focus on our city’s more disadvantaged neighbourhoods and people, promoting entrepreneurship as a contributor to inclusive growth. I met Ellie Webb, one of the entrepreneurs helped by Outset, founder of Caleño Drinks. Ellie spotted a market opportunity for non-alcoholic drinks and has now launched Caleño – a tropical non-alcoholic spirit. Supported by Outset since 2017, Ellie now employs people, has the support of a major drinks supplier and Sainsbury’s will be stocking Caleño next month.

A significant part of Bristol’s economic strength is its spirit of enterprise and the city is widely recognised for being a good place to start a business. This diversity is something we can trade off as part of our own offer to draw other business here. A large part of our successful pitch to Channel 4 was our authentic and vibrant enterprise ecosystem. Bristol also has a higher ‘business survival rate’ than any other major UK city. But we know we have to continue working to improve Bristol’s enterprise environment, especially in pursuit of inclusive growth, as well as supporting more established businesses to provide the decent jobs Bristolians deserve.

Time to Change

This week, Bristol City Council will pledge to become a ‘Time to Change’ employer and join the growing social movement supporting people to open about mental health.

We want to ensure we have an environment which supports colleagues to open up; to talk and to listen. Becoming a Time to Change employer is a sign of our commitment to this and puts mental health and wellbeing top of the agenda in City Hall.

Time to Change is run by the charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness and by signing the employer pledge the council is committing to change the way we all think and act about mental health in the workplace. The announcement comes ahead of Time to Talk Day (7 Feb) a national awareness day encouraging people to have conversations about mental health and challenge stigma.

Behind the pledge sits an action plan to set out how we will achieve this and how we’ll make sure we’re embedding mental health into our policies to best support colleagues. Practical things we will be doing include creating an environment where colleagues feel more able to discuss mental health concerns, providing information to managers on mental health and working collaboratively with trade unions, staff-led groups and external expertise to hear voices from all employee groups.

We know that this is one part of the picture and mental health is an issue that needs to be looked at from many different angles. That’s why we’re working on a 10 year programme focused on prevention called Thrive Bristol. BCC has also signed the Public Health England Prevention Concordat for Better Mental Health demonstrating its commitment to join the national drive to take action to prevent mental health problems, promote good mental health and build resilient communities.

I want to see other city institutions come on board and pledge to this too, as a city wide commitment to better mental health. This reflects the approach we have taken with our pledges on the UNITE Construction Charter, our Living Wage accreditation and recently the Dying To Work charter. These set out the benchmark we want to see for employers in the city and hope other can follow our lead.

Signing the Time to Change employer pledge is another mark of our commitment to putting mental health on the same footing as physical health.  This is an issue we can’t afford to ignore and we need to create a workplace culture where we are all confident to open up the conversation around mental health.

Council Tax Reduction Scheme & Empty Property Premium

At this afternoon’s cabinet meeting we reaffirmed our commitment to the £40 million Council Tax Reduction Scheme, the last of its kind in the core cities, which provides a discount of up to 100% for the poorest households in Bristol.

In a continuing era of austerity, where the government continues to increase the gap between rich and poor and look away from the increasing difficulties for our most vulnerable citizens, I was really proud to take the decision to maintain this benefit which maintains the current levels of support to households on a low income.

Keeping the reduction scheme also reduces the risk of increased debt to the council for households on a low income, an increased concern as the switch to Universal Credit really starts to bite for many people.

Our aim remains working towards Bristol being an inclusive and accessible economy for everyone

Council tax reduction and exemption is provided to around 10,000 pensioners and students across Bristol. The reduction scheme provides support to people of working age and around a further 25,000 households.

As we would expect, single parents, disabled people, members of black and minority ethnic communities, and women rely dis-proportionately on benefit from the scheme. Again we know that more people are affected in less affluent areas with more than 9,300 working-age households in receipt of the CTRS, from just five of Bristol’s 34 wards.  These are Hartcliffe & Withywood, Lawrence Hill, Avonmouth & Lawrence Weston, Filwood, and Ashley. 3 of these wards are amongst the most deprived wards in the city.

Today’s meeting also saw plans to increase the rate of council tax on long-term empty properties to 300%, having already scrapped the 50% discount in place under the previous administration.

Cabinet approved proposals to increase council tax on long-term empty properties – defined as being unoccupied and substantially unfurnished for at least two years – to up to 300% of their Council tax. The premium will not apply in certain circumstances, for instance where an owner has gone into hospital or care home, has moved to another residence to receive or provide care, has passed away.

We estimate this will raise an additional £189,000 over the next financial year. Even more importantly it will help encourage people to bring more of the 291 domestic properties which have been empty and unfurnished for at least two years back into use as homes. Given the housing crisis and the consequences it has, we need to use every available tool at our disposal to make sure empty houses become homes.

These two policies demonstrate our progressive approach to taxation in a way that no other core city has achieved.

Holocaust Memorial Day

Today’s blog post comes from Cllr Asher Craig Deputy Mayor and Cabinet Member for Communities, Equalities and Public Health.

This Sunday is Holocaust Memorial Day and as part of the commemorations I spoke at an event at City Hall. Holocaust Memorial Day is a national day dedicated to the remembrance of those who suffered under Nazi persecution and subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.

Today was an emotional day that brought together young people and members of religious communities to hear inspiring speakers such as Iby Knill, a 95 year old Holocaust survivor. During the Second World War Iby was part of the Resistance Movement but was arrested by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau and a slave labour camp at Lippstadt. She spoke movingly of her experiences.

Later, sixth formers from colleges across the city spent time exploring what could be learnt from terrible events like Auschwitz. We cannot stop persecution, but ensuring that young people appreciate and learn about these experiences and how the human spirit can prevail and overcome is unbelievably important.

I spoke about how the city council has worked with partners  to provide a home and safe haven for refugees, including from the ongoing conflict in Syria. Bristol is a city of freedom, equality and solidarity and became a City of Sanctuary in 2011. Long before that, it has a strong record of welcoming refugees, such as Jewish refugees during the war, refugees from the Spanish Civil war in the 1930s, Somali refugees in 2000s and Syrian refugees since 2016.

Bristol has gained national recognition for its work in welcoming migrants and refugees as part of the Inclusive Cities Programme. Bristol City Council has supported 80 families who have no recourse to public funds which includes vulnerable people who have been trafficked. The council also supports over 70 unaccompanied asylum seeking children and young people who are looked after children. We have resettled 268 people from 50 families since April 2016 and are aiming to resettle a total of 100 families by March 2020.

Our health partners run a special clinic, the Haven, which offers a full service adjusted to better meet the needs of asylum seekers and refugees and we work closely with voluntary sector organisations who work tirelessly to meet the needs of refugees and asylum seekers in Bristol.

Highlights from our communities’ contributions include:

  • Around 800 asylum seekers live in Bristol, supported by four welcome centres, one of which is run by and for refugee women.
  • The Government grants about 250 Bristol asylum seekers leave to stay each year and they are each offered one-to-one case work support by the Red Cross.
  • Refugee Week has now become Refugee month with a wide range of activities promoting the contribution of refugees to the city.
  • In Bristol there are about 150 destitute asylum seekers. We have families in Bristol who offer a room in their home for a destitute asylum seeker and welcome centres focus much energy on supporting this very vulnerable group. 40% of people using the welcome centres are destitute.
  • A local Housing Association works with a community organisation to organise neighbourhood conversations, pop-up interactive events, active citizen’s training and are making a film on Bristol Values.
  • Community activists organise Peace Feasts, befriending schemes, street parties, Inclusion days and a Community Iftar where over 800 people from different backgrounds shared food in 2018.
  • We have a strong mentoring programme giving asylum seekers and refugees emotional support when going to court and attending other difficult meetings.
  • A network of activists who support asylum seekers to sign on in police stations and raise money for transport. I should also mention that First bus double the money raised by this enterprising group.
  • A local citizens group is promoting community sponsorship of refugees based on the Canadian model, and the first community sponsorship family was welcomed to Bristol in 2018.
  • Ashley Community Housing, set up by refugees, has over 100 housing units for new refugees. It will also be running a positive action jobs fair this March to help 100 refugees to find work

I am really proud of all of this work. But it would not be possible without the people of Bristol and the work they do too in welcoming people as part of their everyday routines. Across Bristol and in our many different neighbourhoods, residents are working to build communities and secure futures for all of us and our children. We celebrate that it is this hard work that makes us a caring and vibrant city which is greater than the sum of its parts.

We have always been an outward facing city. Our population and our economy are growing, making Bristol an exciting place to be. We have a lot to learn from and to teach one another.

We also recognise that sharing, taking care of each other, and giving people the support we all need and a home to go to will make a great city even better. We all have a part to play.

Bristol’s Period Poverty Summit

Today’s guest blog comes from Councillor Helen Godwin, Cabinet Member for Women, Children and Families.

Marvin and I welcomed over 80 people from around the UK to Bristol for a summit to discuss Period Poverty and Bristol’s response.

Period Poverty remains a subject that  many people are not aware of, despite a number of high profile campaigns. A report in 2018 by Plan International indicated that around 137,000 girls across the UK are missing school every year because they have their period. Many of these young people live in families that simply cannot afford to buy period products. There is also a growing body of evidence that links Period Poverty with bullying, social isolation and mental health issues.

Bristol City Council made a unanimous decision in November 2018 to be the first English city to attempt to eradicate Period Poverty, and our first action will be to ensure all Bristol schools are supplied with products accessible to all children from school year 5 to year 13.

Earlier this month at a gathering of Bristol’s key city leaders a vote was held to decide the three key city priorities for 2019, and the city voted to support our work to eradicate Period Poverty in Bristol.

With this collective power and resource in mind, today’s summit was able to focus on how we can best ensure that no Bristolian should have to worry if they can afford to have their period.

Today we shared ideas about accessing period products, improving education around the availability and environmental sustainability of products. Most importantly, we explored how we can build closer ties between all those working on this very important issue. Today’s speakers and discussions gave incredible ideas and focus that will lead to action. We truly believe that Bristol can deliver. We will eradicate Period Poverty.

We already have businesses and organisations in the city doing their bit to tackle period poverty and part of today’s summit was to share their experiences and practical advice. I am proud that we are taking on this challenge collectively, as part of our One City Approach, achieving our aim  that Bristol is a city in which nobody is left behind.

The Future of Libraries – Get engaged

Today’s guest blog is from Deputy Mayor Councillor Asher Craig (Communities, Equalities & Public Health).

Have you got ideas or suggestions for your library and its building? Can you help make these ideas happen?

Last July the Mayor and Cabinet decided to keep all 27 libraries open and pledged to hold a series of community events to bring together local people and organisations to identify opportunities for community led activities and partnerships that will create a library service for the future.

We want to let people know how they can get involved and how the library team is going to be working alongside residents and organisations to come up with solutions for extending the service and the use of the buildings, while also looking at the wider needs of the local community.

These meetings will offer an opportunity for collaboration and will consider the support needed – both financial and practical – to take ideas forward that will become pilot projects.

We want people to come to these events with suggestions and ideas – small ideas that could be developed quickly, and bigger ideas that make a significant difference to how a library service is provided in the future. This is not about saving money, it is about the community finding sustainable solutions and working with us to deliver them.

It is a busy time for libraries. While the community events are taking place, the council is developing a library strategy to help modernise the service and take it forward. The strategy will propose the following areas of priority: reading and learning, digital inclusion and access, extended access and Knowledge Hubs. The strategy will align with the proposed community engagement events which will look in detail at local ideas and solutions for each library.

Libraries continue to provide key services for local communities, but what residents want from them is changing, and the service needs to change with this. We want to hear from community organisations, current and potential library users, businesses and councillors. The idea is that we work together to find the best possible solutions. We are looking for people to come forward with workable ideas for their local library – we are open to discussing new ideas and are keen not to stand in people’s way. This will be different in each area as it needs to be targeted to what that local community wants and needs. We understand that there is no one-size fits all approach.

For those that cannot attend an event there will be an online ideas form where people can share suggestions.

To find out more about the community events or take part in the survey please visit:


Rose Green Centre, 65 Gordon Road, BS5 7DR

  • Tuesday 29 January 10am-12noon
  • Tuesday 29 January 7-9pm

Libraries being discussed: Hillfields, Fishponds, St. George, Junction 3

Withywood Community Centre, Queen’s Road, BS13 8QA

  • Monday 4 February  10am-12noon
  • Thursday 7 February  7-9pm

Libraries being discussed: Bishopsworth, Hartcliffe, Whitchurch

City Hall, College Green, BS1 5TR

  • Tuesday 12 February 10am-12noon
  • Tuesday 12 February 6-8pm

Libraries being discussed: Central, Clifton, Redland, Bishopston, St Pauls

The Park Centre, Daventry Road, Knowle, BS4 1DQ

  • Tuesday 26 February 10am-12noon
  • Saturday 2 March 10am-12noon

Libraries being discussed: Wick Road, Knowle, Stockwood, Filwood, Marksbury Road, Bedminster

Greenway Centre, Doncaster Road, Southmead, BS10 5PY

  • Wednesday 6 March 10am-12noon 
  • Saturday 9 March 10am-12noon

Libraries being discussed: Southmead, Westbury, Henleaze, Horfield, Lockleaze

Shirehampton Public Hall, Station Road, BS11 9TX

  • Monday 11 March 7-9pm
  • Wednesday 13 March 10am-12noon

Libraries being discussed: Henbury, Shirehampton, Avonmouth, Sea Mills

The Lunch Club

Last November Bristol was accepted as part of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Global Network of Age Friendly Communities. This is thanks to the work of the Bristol Ageing Better partnership, the council and so many older Bristolians who have been involved as well as the lead of my cabinet colleague Helen Holland.  This global network represents cities and communities across the world who are all committed to making their areas better and more inclusive for older people, which also has a positive impact on the community as a whole.

Bristol’s membership is a statement of our commitment to enable older people to feel safe, enjoy good health and continue to participate fully in society. Figures show there are between 6,300 and 11,400 older people who are socially isolated in Bristol. By working together with the Bristol Ageing Better partnership and our city partners, I want to tackle this and ensure our city becomes a better place for everyone to grow old in.

This ambition will require us to become a more closely connected society where people work together and support one another. I saw a great example of this in action when I visited Avonmouth Community Centre yesterday to attend their weekly lunch club.  I had the opportunity to meet a range of volunteers and staff and to see how this weekly meet up enabled local citizens to not only enjoy a hot meal but also served as an opportunity for the community to get together.

Many people experience the isolation of loneliness at some point in their lives so I welcome the news that several organisations based within the city region have received funding from the government’s Building Connections Fund – the first ever fund dedicated to reducing loneliness – targeting people from all age groups and backgrounds.  It is only by supporting a wide range of partners, organisations and citizens that we can collectively solve some of the challenges of growing an inclusive city, challenges such as social isolation. This ambition is further reflected in our One City Approach and our drive to work better together and deliver real improvements which people can see and feel.  

For the first time, our upcoming joined-up action plan across the public, private, voluntary and academic sectors will look to use the collective power of the city’s key organisations to make a bigger impact for those who feel less connected within our society. I look forward to working with our partners as Bristol moves forward to becoming increasingly a city for all.

Our City – on film

It was great to host talented young filmmakers from across Bristol in City Hall today.

They were entrants to the One City film competition, launched in 2017. This competition was borne out of our work with the city’s media and creative industry to attract Channel 4 to Bristol.

We always set out saying we would go for Channel 4, but that even if we didn’t get the Creative Hub, good things would still have come from the sector coming together in this way.

One of these things was how we created a space and platform for young filmmaking talent to showcase itself and get involved with telling the city’s story.

The finalists of the Our City competition are offered mentoring from leading Bristol film and TV production companies such as Aardman, Doghouse Productions, Drummer TV, Films @59 and Icon Films. The £1,000 prize was this year split between two winning entries: ‘BeBristol’ by Patch de Salis and ‘BRISTOL | Create Here’ by Michael Doran. These films will also be showcased at this Friday’s City Gathering.

This is all part of our commitment to identifying and working with the city to identify the opportunities for young, creative talent.

The creative sector is a huge part of Bristol’s economy and it has been fantastic to work with the sector over the past 18 months.  As Mike Norton said in his editorial for the Bristol Post following the announcement that Bristol has won a C4 Creative Hub, ‘this victory was but a small indication of what can be achieved when Bristol unites behind a project’.

Congratulations to the winners and all the finalists on their achievements. I hope this competition and expert mentoring acts as a catalyst for future creative careers.

Best in Class: Small Business Friendly Council

2018 was a big year for delivery: on housing, became living wage accredited and maintained our children’s centre service and libraries which was capped off with us being named alongside Leeds and Glasgow as one of the three new homes for Channel 4.

Today got off to a good start. I had the honour of being visited by the Federation of Small Business (FSB) who presented us with the “Best in Class: Best Overall Small Business Friendly Council” in the “Local Authority Small Business Friendly” Awards 2018.

This was the first year of what is intended to be an annual series of awards for Local Authorities by the Federation of Small Business.

Our pitch presented our business facing service teams in their entirety, from Economic Development, Employment, Skills and Learning to Business Rates, Commissioning and Procurement. We recognise that small businesses aren’t merely simply businesses but can be at the heart of communities and families, central to local economies and pathways to employment and prosperity for people otherwise locked out of economic opportunity.

In our pitch we had highlighted our commitment to social value in our contracts. This fit well with our ongoing work with the FSB and Small Medium Size Enterprises who are key partners in delivering inclusive and sustainable economic growth.

For those you with an interest it’s worth noting our refreshed Social Value Policy is going to Cabinet on the 22 January. The main revisions of the policy seek to increase the Social Value weighting in tenders to 20% as a standalone value, alongside the traditional price/quality split, and a spend target of 40% with micro, small, medium sized businesses and organisations, and the voluntary, community and social enterprise sectors.

The FSB itself said “Bristol City Council has invested significant resource to support SMEs to grow through a variety of projects including helping SMEs to access apprenticeship funding, providing financial support for a number of business groups, actively engaging with almost 2000 high street companies through its Business Improvement District programme and, at a challenging time for skills, providing regular Jobs Fairs and delivering sector-focused training in partnership with employers.

[Bristol] has also gone out of its way to help with business rates relief – offering £1m up front to the businesses they knew who were entitled to it rather than making each business submit an application. It has also recognised an issue the FSB takes very seriously by setting a policy of paying all their contractors for all good and services within 30 days of invoice as well as offering support to SMEs by showing them how the Social Value Act can aid them in their procurement ambitions. And it has also recently unveiled an Equality Charter to establish a positive culture of diversity in the workplace.”

Being recognised for our practical commitment to small businesses in the city is a great way to start the year. And its work that will remain committed to as our business continue to face the economic uncertainties of Brexit and challenges to high streets.