Kerry writes for Fishponds Voice, 1st Jan 2024
At Bristol’s last One City Gathering, I saw how much we gain from having a collective vision for the city. The One City Plan, launched by Mayor Marvin Rees in 2019, brings together leaders from the public, private, voluntary and community sectors to discuss their priorities for Bristol and the contribution they can make. We saw the One City approach in operation during the Covid pandemic, and when the Government failed to renew funding for the holiday hunger programme, with everyone rallying around to ensure that Feeding Bristol could provide even more meals to children over the long summer break.
This is against a backdrop of central Government’s failure to fund local authorities. One in ten of the English councils are at risk of going bust, with Birmingham and Nottingham notably starting bankruptcy proceedings this year. Essential services like temporary housing and social care are seeing a steep increase in demand, and, like everyone, councils are having to cope with inflationary pressures too. But there was no new money in November’s Autumn Statement to help councils fund the services on which we all rely.
Another example of innovation by Bristol Council is City Leap, a twenty-year public-private partnership which will see at least £424 million invested in low-carbon infrastructure over five years, cutting the city’s Co2 output by 140,000 tonnes, and creating over 1,000 green jobs in the process. This has clearly caught the Prime Minister’s eye. The Local Net Zero Accelerator Programme has been announced, replicating the City Leap project with a series of similar pilots in Greater Manchester, the West Midlands, and York. Where Bristol leads, others will follow!
Elsewhere, Cllr Ellie King, Cabinet Member for Public Health and councillor for Hillfields, has been leading fantastic work to end new HIV infections by 2030. Nearly 60% of people living with HIV in Bristol are diagnosed late: a lot higher than the national average, at around 40%. I recently joined Ellie and other Bristol Labour members for a 10k ‘Ribbon Walk,’ to raise money for Terrence Higgins Trust, where I heard the brilliant news that opt-out HIV testing will soon be available at A&Es across Bristol.
This means anyone who has a blood test at the BRI, Weston General or Southmead Hospital A&E will be tested for hepatitis and HIV unless they ask not to be. This approach has already seen over 1,000 new HIV cases and 3,000 hepatitis cases picked up, from Blackpool to Brighton, helping patients access life-saving treatment before their illness has a chance to progress.
As councils across the UK continue to face unprecedented challenges, it’s encouraging to see a lot of the work that Bristol City Council has achieved. I look forward to seeing more of the same in 2024.