International Day of Education

Today’s guest blog comes from Matt Gillett, Unite Regional Education Officer.

As we celebrate UN International Day for Education it’s worth noting that learning is something that does not end with school or university but continues, both formally and informally, for all of our lives. And for trade unions, access to ongoing learning and education is an issue that is central to so much of what we do. Ensuring that our members in the workplace and the community have the chance to refresh and add to their skills and knowledge to support them in every aspect of their lives.

Learn with Unite is my union’s lifelong learning section. We are part of the Unionlearn project, a government funded initiative, started in the late 1990s to support workplace learning. By working constructively with employers right across industry we have ensured workers have had the opportunity to complete functional skills courses in English and Maths, and vocational qualifications right through to adult apprenticeships. This has been done with the active participation of the more than 40,000 Union Learning Reps who have been trained since Unionlearn was set up. This means we have a quarter of a million learners able to access courses each year through the project. Unite alone currently has over 450 learning agreements with employers that cover around 800,000 workers. Our aim is to build sustainable learning through these agreements and the involvement of our Reps and partner colleges and training providers. Our work with the Bristol Mayor’s office and the Learning City initiative will also help us do this.

Working with those partners we also provide key support to those affected by redundancy with courses in employability skills such as interview techniques, CV writing and job searches. Through our online courses, we provide a further range of recognised and transferable qualifications. Recognising that computer skills are becoming increasingly important in all of our lives we provide computer training from basic through to Level 1 and 2 qualifications. Digital exclusion is a huge equality issue that should concern us all.

Through our focus on equality and diversity we work to increase inclusion and overcome barriers to learning. Our offer of ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) allows us to support migrant workers. In Bristol we have a learning centre in our Unite Regional Headquarters in Tony Benn House which offers support to the community through a jobs club, computer classes and ESOL conversation as well as one off sessions such as diabetes awareness. Working with key organisations in the city we are pursuing ideas to make learning available to refugees and asylum seekers.

Lifelong learning, and the access to it, is vital to every aspect of our lives.

Making Inroads

Today, 15th January 2020 is the sixth National Pothole day, where campaigners raise the need for funding and resources to make sure Britain’s roads are up to scratch.

It’s appropriate for us in Bristol today as we had to warn residents that a section of Bishport Avenue in Hartcliffe was closed to resurface a section damaged by the recent poor weather.

Potholes and poor road surfaces are a frustration for motorists and cause serious damage to cars. They can also be especially dangerous for cyclists and motorbikes. We also know that the repair works themselves can be frustrating – causing delays on our network and inconvenience while our teams and contractors repair road surfaces.

It’s a huge challenge for councils across the country and Bristol is no different. In fact, here we repair over 5,000 potholes every year. Our highway network is the largest and most visible publicly owned asset in the city – it covers over 1,100km of carriageway, as well as our popular cycle routes and pedestrian footways. It is used daily by the travelling public for commuting, business, social and leisure activities.

Although it might be taken for granted until it goes wrong, our network is fundamental to the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of local communities and to the prosperity of the city as a whole. This is why we will robustly monitor the conditions and always look to ensure the safety of our staff, contractors and the general public through the active promotion of a positive health and safety culture.

The ongoing upkeep of our highways never stops and we are continuing with preventative work such as surface dressing and repairing defects before they cause potholes. It is key that we get ahead and take action early. Anyone who spots a pothole can report it online here or by calling 0117 922 2100.

This month also means the start of a new way to manage road works and reduce the amount of time our network is disrupted. A new system of streetworks permits will reduce traffic congestion and enhance air quality by introducing conditions on the times during which work can take place, helping to improve people flow and reduce congestion. It will also allow us to take action against companies who take too long to complete their works. This is part of our active roadworks approach to make sure roadworks are as efficient as possible.

Last year I saw some Bristol based innovation with plastic waste tarmac roads at the new housing development Ashton Rise. Willmott Dixon were incorporating tarmac roads into Ashton Rise’s development by replacing carbon intensive bitumen found in Tarmac with non-recyclable waste plastic.

Waste plastic was collected from Ashton Rise’s construction site through the waste management company ETM and processed it into a plastic polymer to replace the need for bitumen in the asphalt mix of tarmac roads, creating a ‘circular economy’ for plastic waste. By repurposing non-recyclable plastic that would otherwise go to landfill or incineration, Ashton Rise has prevented 1.3 tonnes of carbon entering the atmosphere or the equivalent of 146, 262 plastic bags being produced.

Although we’ll continue to prioritise early intervention and innovation for our network, we are hopeful that the Government’s promised National Infrastructure Strategy will include a pothole filling programme to help support stretched council budgets to maintain this important infrastructure.

“I was homeless, I was you”

“A few weeks ago, me and my daughters moved into a council house. Now we can finally put down roots. I feel like I have my life back.”

Lola, aged 40, Barton Hill.

This week you may have noticed letters addressed to those who are experiencing or facing homelessness posted across our city. These letters carry voices that are heard too rarely – the voices of those who have experienced homelessness, reaching out to those who need similar help and support.

Lola, John and Danni’s experiences of homelessness are all different, but their message to those who are facing homelessness is the same: you can turn your life around.

Ending homelessness in Bristol is one of our major priorities – last year we agreed our Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Strategy which will support our efforts to eradicate rough sleeping by 2027.

We are also delivering on our promise to provide the homes Bristol needs to tackle our housing crisis. Before Christmas I visited a brand new council housing development in Brislington, and met residents and families whose lives are being transformed by having a safe and secure roof over their head. We are building affordable homes that can help people like Lola reclaim control over their lives in every corner of our city.

Reading Lola, John and Danni’s letters, however, shows that those who are homeless face a range of different challenges and therefore need different programmes of support. One thing is common throughout the success stories shared by Lola, John and Danni – it is crucial to get help early.

That’s why the work we do with city partners to provide a range of support services is so important in helping people who are experiencing homelessness to find and maintain a safe and secure home. From our welfare rights and money advice services, to our Youth Homelessness Hub, we helped more than 3,600 people from becoming homeless in 2018. In the same year, Bristol City Council and homelessness support services in the city helped more than 900 people who were homeless, through support services like the St Anne’s Winter Night Shelter. We are also support residents in private accommodation, by cracking down on rogue landlords and introducing licencing schemes to drive up standards and security in the private housing sector.

So if you are worried that you or a family member might be at risk of homelessness, seek help now. Information is available on the Bristol City Council website on the ways we and other agencies in the city can help.

As homelessness continues to increase across the country, I am acutely aware of the difference that a safe and secure home can make to a family like Lola’s. That’s why I will continue to put delivering new housing at the top of the city’s agenda. Families across the city like Lola’s, facing homelessness or living in temporary accommodation, rely on us to deliver our pledge for safe, secure and affordable homes across the whole of Bristol. I’m proud that in this campaign we are hearing their message of hope loud and clear.

Recognition for Making Bristol a Living Wage City

This week, I feel proud to be able share the news that the Living Wage Foundation has formally recognised Bristol for its commitment to becoming a Living Wage City.

Not only are we amongst the first cities to achieve this, we are the biggest city to be recognised so far – an example of what we can achieve when we pull together as a city.

The TUC took to the stage at our City Gathering exactly a year ago to challenge the city to improve wages. Therefore, it seemed fitting that we used the City Gathering on Friday to share this major success with hundreds of employers across Bristol and launch this new status.

I was struck by how fair pay became a theme for the morning. It was highlighted as a crucial factor in reducing crime and Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, Director-General of the CBI, also shone a light on the importance of rising wages for the economy as a whole.

Financial security, or the lack of, affects every aspect of life. It impacts on a person’s housing situation, their mental and physical health, their educational attainment and their likelihood to be involved in crime.

Increasing the pay of those living and working in our city is key to unlocking improvements in each of these areas. As a tool for social justice, it’s vital. But it’s also good for business.

As Pete Gibbs, owner of the Volunteer Tavern, said to a room full of Bristol employers on Friday: ‘My staff are your customers, and your staff are my customers’. Higher wages means more money to put back into the economy.

In fact, the Living Wage Foundation has found that 93% of Living Wage businesses have benefited since accrediting, through improved recruitment and retention of staff, as well as fewer sick days taken.

As a city, we now have a 3-year plan, with ambitious targets: we want to double the number of Living Wage Employers in the next three years, lifting thousands more people out of in-work poverty. We plan to start by targeting those sectors where workers frequently find themselves trapped in low pay, such as hospitality, retail and tourism.

Working with a key Action Group of organisations representing different sectors, we will continue to influence change and strive for a future where everyone earns a fair wage for a hard day’s work; where earning a real Living Wage is the benchmark, not the aspiration.

This is just the start of our journey – and we need more organisations to work with us.

We’re organising a Living Wage Meet and Greet on Monday 17th February at 3.30pm at City Hall. It’s an opportunity to meet other employers and the Living Wage Foundation to learn more about how you can get involved. Please get in touch with the team to register your interest for this or future events by emailing business@bristol.gov.uk.

Making Bristol a Living Wage City is a perfect example of something we, as a council, could not achieve on our own. It demonstrates the collective power we have to make Bristol a fairer city for everyone and a true city of hope.

Thank you to all those who have helped us on our journey so far, by becoming Living Wage accredited employers, coming to events we’ve organised or being part of our Action Group.

In particular, thank you to our fellow Action Group members for being part of Making Bristol a Living Wage City, namely: University of Bristol, Triodos, DAC Beachcroft, Wessex Archaeology, the Soil Association, Bristol Credit Union, Business West and the TUC.

2020 City Gathering

This morning the City Office held its bi-annual City Gathering. These meetings bring together leaders from all aspects of society, public, private and third sector and today’s was the largest to date with over 250 attendees. City Gatherings are key to how we work collectively as a city to get things done.

Following the success of last year’s One City Plan launch, this morning’s gathering saw the launch of the second iteration of the plan. This year’s iteration includes updates on the plan to include increased ambition towards carbon neutrality as well as updates from the City’s thematic boards. This year’s plan is also now available in a filterable format through the City Office dashboard which is a first attempt to improve the accessibility of the One City Plan.

The gathering also saw a review of what the City Office has achieved over the previous year. Last year’s City Office priority objectives (Period Friendly Bristol, Affordable Childcare and Tackling Street Conflict) were reviewed and are covered in the City Office annual report which is now live on the City Office website.

Our January City Gathering also establishes the City Office’s three priorities for the year. Our Youth Council and Babbasa youth ambassadors voted to select the City’s Connectivity priority to explore funding measures for mass transit systems in Bristol. Gathering attendees then voted for the two remaining priorities, and they chose the Environment Board’s Going for Gold Food Sustainability programme and the Homes and Communities priority of reducing the number of families in temporary accommodation.

We were also incredibly honoured to have Dame Caroline Fairbairn, Director-General of the CBI, and former Ambassador David Donoghue. Dame Caroline spoke about the need for more positive engagement between business and Bristol’s schools. David facilitated the negotiation process of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and gave a strong endorsement for the work of the University of Bristol and the City Office to embed the SDGs in Bristol and the One City Plan.  

The positive, collaborative and incredibly productive nature of today’s gathering is a testament to what we can achieve as a city when combining our efforts. We welcome your comments and suggestions on the One City Plan. If you would like to share your solutions and get involved, please get in touch with the One City Office.

You can hear more about today’s gathering in the video below.

Temple Island – The Future

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

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

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

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

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

09.01.2020-Proposal for Temple Island_LG-FINAL

The E-Bike Challenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ofsted SEND Report: Our response

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Period Friendly Bristol

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whitchurch Lane – Joint Statement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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