Written evidence submitted by Bristol City Council (LRS0042)

1. About Bristol

1.1. Bristol is the 10th largest city in Great Britain and is England’s regional capital for the South West. It is one of the country’s ‘core cities’ with an estimated population of over 463,000, projected to reach nearly half a million by the end of the decade.

1.2 The city is renowned for being innovative, with the fastest growing and most globally significant tech cluster in the UK and the highest business start-up and survival rates among major UK cities. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, we had a thriving economy, contributing £14.7bn to the UK economy; the only UK city other than London to make a positive net contribution to the Exchequer.

1.3 Bristol’s overarching success should not be mistaken for universal affluence, as is sometimes reflected in Government formulae. It is also a city of contrasts, where some of the most some of the most deprived areas border the most affluent. Deprivation data shows that Bristol has 41 areas in the most deprived 10% in England, including three in the most deprived 1%[1].

1.4 The council has a unique ability to convene a wide range of partners and engage citizens in effective place-making. Our support and contribution to the partnership ‘One City’ model, detailed later in this submission, and overall approach to city planning and governance is an example of how we seek to match productive communication with real action. The council’s relationships with the people we serve, the city we steward and the partners we wish to collaborate with are integral to our ability to deliver our vision for Bristol, including our economic recovery.

2. Local and regional structures 

2.1  The council and Mayor of Bristol play distinct roles in local, regional and pan-regional structures across Bristol, the West of England and a wider geography. This submission will focus on how these structures can be best equipped to deliver growth locally, with a focus on capitalising on the city’s strengths, whilst enabling it to tackle deep-rooted inequalities and address the critical challenge of climate change. In particular, we draw the committee’s attention to the following points:

2.2. Bristol City Council is a unitary authority, which means it is responsible for all local government services (including education and social care) within Bristol.

2.3. The Mayor of Bristol is directly elected by the people of Bristol with the mayoral model of governance introduced in 2012. The Mayor leads the council and its councillors, to provide services for the city. Elections for the Mayor are held every four years.

2.4 The Mayor and city partners have also developed a unique approach to civic leadership. The One City Approach brings together hundreds of public, private, voluntary and third sector partners within Bristol to work towards a shared vision: In 2050 Bristol is a fair, healthy and sustainable city. A series of partnership boards and forums have been created which are now embedded in the city and enable collective city action and holistic decision making. They work to deliver a One City Plan that is reviewed each year.

2.5 The West of England Combined Authority (WECA) was established in February 2017 and is made up of three local authorities – Bristol, Bath and North East Somerset and South Gloucestershire. It makes decisions for the region about transport, housing and adult education and skills and is led by a directly elected WECA (metro) mayor. Elections are held every four years.

2.6 The Western Gateway is a cross-border economic partnership to drive sustainable growth at scale through greater collaboration. Covering the core cities of Bristol and Cardiff, it stretches across south Wales and western England and is a pan-regional partnership of local authorities, city regions and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) working closely with governments (in Wales and Westminster), to bring additionality to the area’s existing strategies and structures.

3. Local structures: Role of city in local growth

3.1 This inquiry considers how local government structures in England could be better equipped to deliver growth locally. Like many places, Bristol now faces a major threat to its economy as a result of Covid-19. This threat will have far reaching consequence for all parts of the city and further widen our existing health and economic inequalities.

3.2 Early analysis suggests Bristol’s economy will shrink by around 6.5% in 2020, with some sectors hit harder than others. Whilst compared to many places Bristol is economically resilient and a rebound is expected in 2021, the short-term shock has significant impacts including around 8,000 anticipated job losses, nearly half of which could be in lesser-skilled roles[2].

3.2 The impact of Covid-19 has not been evenly spread. Predominantly, the worse health impacts in urban areas like Bristol have been due to structural inequalities, with the pandemic particularly affecting deprived communities, Black, Asian, minority ethnic, women, migrants and the elderly[3].

3.3 An OECD report, commissioned by Core Cities, demonstrated that the UK already had one of the highest levels of income inequality across its 36 member countries.  The Core Cities have three times as many deprived neighbourhoods as other authorities within the same city regions, and income levels are 6% below the level of surrounding areas[4].

3.5 Overall, growth for Bristol between 2020 – 2025 is expected to be slower than was anticipated before the pandemic, with the economic impacts been asymmetric, differentially impacting tourism, hospitality, city centre retail, manufacturing, airport related trade, and other localised dependencies on different sectors.

3.5 These localised impacts demonstrate that a place based and people centred approach is needed for a successful recovery. If future growth and the benefits of ‘levelling up’ are to be shared by more people and truly address the roots of inequalities in cities like Bristol, then further investment in urban areas and their public services will be required. The ability of places to budget across multiple years for more of their services is essential.

3.6 Powers that have been ceded to places under emergency planning rules should also be retained, for example for transport and the use of public space, to help reactivate local economies.

3.7 In the immediate term, it will also be vital to support those most distant from the labour market to connect with it, addressing issues of low or no skills, access to public transport and poor physical and mental health.

3.8 The OECD concludes that addressing these issues requires locally tailored, place-based policies aligned at the relevant level. These should cut across health, employment, Early Years, education and welfare policy, but as the OECD point out, also link to issues like affordable childcare and better public transport.

3.9 These are all areas where local authorities and elected city leaders are particularly well placed to drive progress, whilst being held accountable to their communities including those most significantly impacted.  Long term economic recovery for all urban areas will require Government and its agencies to work closely with local leadership arrangements that bring together the public, private and voluntary sectors. In Bristol, these structures are already in place, working effectively and should be built on to reduce fragmentation and secure the widest mix of business and citizen participation.

An integrated and devolved employment and skills service, bringing together information, advice and guidance alongside the delivery of employment, skills, apprenticeships and wider support for individuals and employers, is just one example of this:


Employment and skills


There is a need for rapid upfront investment to local authorities to build on our existing infrastructure to support young people and adults that have lost education, training and employment. Future labour work programmes responding to the pandemic do not need to be built from scratch but we suggest can be done by supporting cities’ local delivery programmes and structures to quickly develop their capacity on the ground.


Our overall focus is to ensure that new schemes are inclusive and accessible for our priority communities.  Building on local links and services, councils like Bristol are able to work quickly and ensure resources are being focused most effectively; factoring in the local evidence base to our assessments.


For example, we echo the call for HM Government to explore allocating funds to local councils for bottom up employment support, to be planned through a collaborative task force made up of the local authority, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), National Careers Service, FE colleges, independent training and employment support providers.


This could result in a local action plan to develop a joint approach with DWP and others for areas like paid work trials, apprenticeships and in-work progression support.



The pandemic has underlined the vital role of councils in leading the local response and in preparing the ground for social and economic recovery, and demonstrated how businesses and communities are increasingly reliant on strong local leadership and uninterrupted public services.

Indeed, city authorities like Bristol are well placed to build on this relationship by convening effective relationships with civic anchor institutions like universities. These locally driven relationships can help build stronger, more competitive and inclusive cities and also meet the increased need for intellectual and policy leadership to find new and innovative solutions to the challenges our cities and residents face.


Case study: Memorandum of Understanding - Bristol City Council, the University of Bristol and the City Office


In March 2020, a memorandum of understanding was agreed to see closer working between the council, university and City Office in Bristol. It was the intent to collaborate under a number of themes aimed at promoting the aims of the One City Approach.


Signed by Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, on behalf of Bristol City Council and the City Office and Guy Orpen, Deputy Vice Chancellor at the University of Bristol, the commitment sees all parties provide opportunities for each other to benefit from greater collaboration. These opportunities include sharing knowledge to achieve shared goals, identifying areas where academic expertise can inform policy and practice, providing placements for students and staff to transfer between organisations and the development of the city’s international reputation.


One example includes the creation of six Bristol City Fellows, appointed to tackle some of the challenges outlined in the One City Plan, with a focus on the concerns of diverse communities. The Fellows are currently working with community groups over 18 months to ensure marginalised voices have a say in decision-making and in turn tackle systemic inequalities across Bristol. Bristol City Council and the University are also key partners in the Temple Quarter redevelopment, a project to deliver a new urban quarter bringing jobs, homes and world-class innovation with the Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus having the potential to become a crucial innovation hub for the city-region.



4. Local structures - Stakeholder and community engagement

4.1 In his speech on strengthening cities in 2012[5], the then Secretary of State Greg Clark suggested a single municipal leader can inject dynamism and ambition into their communities and should act as the “human face of a responsive local democracy, the honest broker of an active civil society and the chief ambassador of a thriving urban economy.

4.2 Bristol is currently the only UK city with an elected black mayor and along with other cities has had a complicated history of significant disparities of class, race and gender. Recent city-wide events and the Black Lives Matter movement demonstrate the importance of understanding local communities and that effective city governance requires local knowledge, sensitivity and involving communities in their own development.

4.3 This will be particularly true as Bristol and other urban areas work towards our economic and social recovery.  If levelling up is to be focused on better equipping areas to deliver growth locally, then drawing on councils’ and local leaders’ extensive local knowledge and their role in community engagement will be critical.

4.4 Running through the remit of this inquiry is the need for good governance with multiple stakeholders firmly rooted in place-based arrangements. One example of good practice is Bristol’s innovative approach to civic leadership and culture – the One City model.


Case Study: One City and recovery


Supported by a leadership structure that brings together hundreds of partners from across businesses, voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE), health, statutory services, education, transport, housing, environment and the city’s universities; One City[6] is embedded within Bristol’s fabric as a way of working.


The One City approach brings together hundreds of public, private, voluntary and third sector partners within Bristol to work towards a shared vision: In 2050 Bristol is a fair, healthy and sustainable city.


A series of partnership boards and forums have been created which are now embedded in the city and enable collective city action and holistic decision making. The One City model was mobilised to significant effect in response to Covid-19 and enabled partners to work effectively and at accelerated pace to tackle the range of challenges the city faced, including on our economic recovery and response:


  • From the start of the emergency response phase, One City Economy Board met weekly and provided a framework to connect planning, decision making and resources; and a channel to further engage local employers and the city’s business community. 


  • As part of this activity, the One City Office co-ordinated a range of webinars, held a virtual event bringing together 350 city stakeholders and is now leading a major piece of work using deliberative democracy to engage with citizens to inform the prioritisation and development of the city’s recovery process.


  • The city’s economic renewal Statement of Intent[7] was published in June, setting out rationale for using the One City approach, guiding principles and ambition and some key projects/mechanisms for recovery.  


  • The first iteration of the One City Economic Recovery Strategy is due in October 2020.


Our overall One City approach has been globally-lauded and Bristol was shortlisted for European City of Innovation 2019, identified by the EU Commission as an example of a city demonstrating how it harnesses innovation to improve the lives of its citizens.



5. Regional structures effective collaboration at scale     

5.1 Alongside the city-led initiatives, programmes and delivery of services in local areas, there is also clear value in working together at a regional level. Combined authorities are well placed to bring together the strategic priorities of its constituent members, especially in metropolitan areas, as local economies and transport networks often operate at a scale greater than individual authority areas.

5.2 Since 2017, Bristol has been working with neighbouring authorities, South Gloucestershire and Bath & North East Somerset, as part of the West of England combined authority on a range of strategic issues including housing and spatial planning. Our Local Industrial Strategy (LIS) also sets out clearly defined priorities for how areas will maximise their contribution to UK productivity.

5.3 To ensure combined authorities and their constituent members are delivering as effectively as possible, we would urge Government to review how funding is allocated at a Combined Authority level. In particular, funding should be allocated to reflect need and to address deprivation, where service demands are highest.

5.4 Bristol, as a major urban area with particular needs, requires an approach that supports delegated decision making and delivery, particularly on employment and skills, to best enable the city to tailor approaches for our most deprived communities.

5.5 Local and regional governance structures could also better align intended policy outcomes with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)[8]. We suggest these global goals should be incorporated in any funding allocation approach, whereby projects in need of funding are assessed on their impact in delivering the objectives set in the SDGs.  

5.6 There is also recognition and evidence that Bristol, a city with established links to Cardiff, another core city, as well as parts of south Wales and the West of England, can accrue benefits from operating at a larger scale, recognising the opportunities in areas like connectivity and innovation that reach beyond authority boundaries.

5.7 The Western Gateway, a developing pan-regional economic partnership, is about accelerating agglomeration benefits to create scale and impact at an international level and to leverage the area’s joint assets, encouraging inward investment where scale of investment is a key driver for international investors[9].

5.8 The form of regional co-ordination represented by this partnership could be described as ‘bottom-up collaboration’, built around a strong evidence base and functional economic geography. In particular, the partnership can spark collaboration and innovation in our distinctive high-tech sectors, universities and R&D assets, making the most of the wider region’s renewable and environmental assets to help deliver regional and local growth.

5.9 The role of the Western Gateway and similar ‘powerhouse’ partnerships demonstrates how cities and neighbouring authorities must and can work cooperatively to fix the magnitude of emerging challenges, which they cannot possibly address alone. Economic recovery and addressing issues like climate change require shared responsibility across all levels of government. By operating at scale and in the Gateway’s case, cross-border, the opportunities for partners to secure a transition to a low-carbon and climate resilient economy become even greater.

6. Regional funding

6.1 It will be important that pan-regional partnerships are properly supported by Government to deliver at the scale and pace required. Further investment in urban areas will also be required if levelling up ambitions are to be effectively resourced. 

6.2 It is expected that the mechanism and quantum of funding for the UK Shared Prosperity Fund and the Government’s replacement of EU structural funding will be detailed through the Recovery and Devolution White Paper and forthcoming Spending Review.

6.3 EU structural funds have supported several social cohesion and employment programmes in Bristol where the council was a key partner, including:




  • Enterprising West of England - conceived by Bristol City Council and led by Business West[10] (April 2017 - March 2020), the programme provided business support to new and growing companies, targeted at residents in disadvantaged areas of the West of England and from groups under-represented in enterprise, especially in South Bristol and city-wide.


  • South Bristol Enterprise Support – the newly established programme will provide entrepreneurship coaching, advice and support services including grant schemes, aimed at residents and small businesses initially over a three-year period, co-financed by European Regional Development Fund[11] (ERDF) and the West of England combined authority. The key objective is to change the enterprise infrastructure in and around South Bristol linked to areas with the highest level of socio-economic disadvantage.



6.4 Bristol Council joins calls by the LGA, Core Cities and others for Government to work with local areas to set out proper plans to replace European Structural Funds, with the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) providing a fresh opportunity for areas to align funding to local priorities, increase productivity and tackle inequalities in our local communities. 

6.5. In any new iteration, HM Government should use a transparent, needs-based allocation system, linked to the objectives of reducing economic inequalities between communities. Any system should also seek to take account of both need and opportunity, with monies provided with as few restrictions as possible, including no restrictions on capital / revenue or prescriptive allocations by theme.

7. Sustainable local economies

7.1 Covid-19 recovery in urban areas like Bristol presents an opportunity to build sustainability across multiple dimensions in line with the UN SDGs: improved health and decreased deprivation; green industry, accelerated net zero and air quality; radically improved infrastructure and strengthened labour markets that will create resilience to future shocks. Embedding the SDGs in local recovery, as being done in Bristol, would help couple the economic reboot with social as well as the environmental progress required.

7.2 The scale of the challenge for recovery and tackling climate change suggests a new approach to policy responsibility in England is required. This would match the place leadership of councils and local Mayors, and their role in convening wider public service delivery and investment, with the need for locally tailored reconstruction and renewal[12].

7.3 On sustainable economies in particular, Bristol Council has a strong record in delivering green energy schemes and our work demonstrates the value of local authorities continuing to provide local leadership of local net zero and skills-based priorities.

7.4 The viability of a green recovery is intertwined with delivery of an effective skills and employment programme that ensures residents can benefit from sustainable employment opportunities. As a local council, we hold the detailed understanding of the differing skills needs in our communities, built from a developed evidence base, an ability to move more quickly where urgent action is required, and existing relationships with suppliers and the local business community.

7.5 We would also call on HM Government to upgrade national policies, standards and regulatory frameworks to help support cities like Bristol to accelerate progress towards net zero, to protect and support the involvement of vulnerable households, and to weaken the viability of activities which cause carbon emissions.

September 2020

[1] State of Bristol - Key Facts 2020 - Bristol City Council

[2] Oxford Economics - Economic Impact Scenarios for South West of England Upper Tier areas (July 2020)

[3] Institute for Fiscal Studies: Covid-19 and inequalities (June 2020)

[4] OECD: Enhancing productivity in UK Core Cities (March 2020)

[5] Speech by BEIS Secretary Greg Clark on ‘Strengthening Our Cities’ (January 2016)

[6] https://www.bristolonecity.com/

[7] https://news.bristol.gov.uk/news/one-city-partners-agree-bold-economic-statement-of-intent-as-a-precursor-to-bristols-full-economic-recovery-strategy

[8] https://www.bristolonecity.com/sdgs/

[9] https://western-gateway.co.uk/

[10] Business West is a not-for-profit organisation which offers business support to start-up and growing businesses in the West of England

[11] The European Regional Development Fund is a fund allocated by the European Union. It aims to strengthen economic and social cohesion in the EU by correcting imbalances between its regions.

[12] Written evidence by the Local Government Association (LGA) (May 2020)