Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees shared the scale of the challenge presented by COVID-19 which is testing every system in our city – during his annual State of the City Address.
It took place at the Watershed yesterday (14 October) as part of the Bristol Festival of Ideas.
Offering condolences to those who have lost loved ones – Mayor Rees thanked the tremendous efforts of the people who have worked tirelessly to keep the city safe, – but warned the biggest challenge was still ahead.
Pledging to work with trade unions and businesses to protect existing jobs, build skills and pathways to work for young people as well as create opportunities for employment – the mayor said we must “build city-wide resilience” as we face the biggest economic depression in recent years.
He said: “Covid is testing every system we depend on. Our education system, our food system, our transport system, our democratic system, our economic system.
“And while we have our heroes who have fought to keep things going, the systems themselves have been found wanting. School and exams have been missed, jobs have been lost. People have gone hungry. Transport has ground to a halt. Elections were cancelled and we are on the cusp of the deepest economic depression since the 1930s.”
Mr Rees pledged to continue lobbying the government to provide adequate support for local authorities to ensure essential services can continue.
From March to August this year, Bristol’s unemployment rate has more than doubled to 4.5 per cent and over 70,000 people in the city have been furloughed.
Bristol partners have worked together to develop an Economic Renewal strategy – focusing on keeping people in work and creating paths to employment.
The mayor then gave a series of updates on previous commitments:
Transport and regeneration
He will continue to press for Government to bring forward investment for infrastructure, jobs and the local supply chain.
Priority projects include:
- Temple Quarter, which will bring homes, jobs and a renovated train station to benefit people in Bristol.
- Western Harbour, which will bring over 2,000 homes in a sustainable location.
- A transport plan that will bring new and reopened stations, more biogas buses and a low carbon mass transit system, which will transform people movement in the city.
- The rebuilding of flood defences for the 21st century and beyond, while renewing the city’s bridges and harbour walls.
Mayor Rees stressed his commitment to address the housing crisis – with nearly 7,000 homes built in the city since 2016 – of these around 1,000 are affordable.
The pipeline of projects delivered by the council-owned housing company means that together almost 2,500 council homes are to be built in Bristol.
- thousands of work experience placements have been delivered and new online resources have been delivered this year
- the nationally recognised Reading City project is continuing
- all 27 libraries are being kept open
- diversity of teachers in the classroom is increasing
- classroom spaces are being expanded and new schools built
- and the council is increasing spend for children with special educational needs and disabled children.
Tackling child hunger has remained a key focus for the council which is continuing to work with partners in Feeding Bristol and other schemes to aim for the Going for Gold food standard in the city.
They are also exploring new plans for food growing schemes in every ward to tackle food poverty.
Alongside partners through the Environment Board, the council is continuing to deliver against the climate change response plan.
Key positive steps include:
- accelerating work to complete pedestrianisation of the Old City and closing Bristol Bridge to through traffic
- working with communities towards liveable streets, improving the public realm, enhancing public transport and active travel
- seeking more powers to tackle solid fuel and unrestricted construction equipment
- asking government to support investment in green infrastructure to boost economic output, offer certainty and begin benefiting from decarbonisation as soon as possible
- working with Avon Wildlife Trust, taking key steps towards reversing dramatic declines in wildlife and restoring the natural environment.
Finishing the speech, Mayor Rees pledged the city’s recovery from COVID-19 must acknowledge that tackling poverty had to go hand in hand with “improving health and education, reducing inequality, stimulating growth and tackling climate change”.
He said, “This crisis can only be overcome by the city coming together, our citizens and organisations. We must tackle the social determinants of health and inequality as well as the bio-medical determinants of health.
“We must come to terms with the fact that the virus will be part of our lives for the foreseeable future. We must learn to adapt to the new normal, and we will need to design and build COVID-secure environments and learn and adopt COVID-safe behaviours.”
To hear the full speech see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3g4SVXUMH8Y