The Black Lives Matter movement and the Bristol protests that saw the toppling of the Edward Colston statute were at the forefront of the latest Bristol and West of England Initiative Meeting attended by dozens of business leaders.
What happened in Bristol has gone around the globe and sparked a city-wide conversation about our city’s history and how we move forward together.
Bristol’s business community will be at the heart of this conversation, as it has been with the response to COVID-19.
At the start of the meeting, Initiative president Richard Bonner highlighted Bristol Chamber & Initiative's statement on this matter, and stressed the need for Bristol’s business community to “lead and drive action”.
Deputy police and crime commissioner John Smith outlined Avon and Somerset Police’s approach to the protests and community relations before, during and after. He outlined the extra work the force put in to liaising with communities, recognising the increased scrutiny on the police in the days leading up to the protests.
The event itself was “obviously complex and only complicated by the pandemic” but no injuries were reported. This was testament to how the sensitive event was policed.
On the statue itself, John spoke about the great amount that has been said on the police response.
On the important points highlighted by the movement, he recognised that progress had been made in the past few years, but it was vital to keep this going.
This sentiment was echoed by James Durie, Chief executive of Bristol Chamber of Commerce and Initiative, who said the city’s businesses have a responsibility to ensure “economic growth for everybody”.
This was just one theme discussed at the meeting which highlighted how businesses and partners continue to collaborate and work together to define and shape the region’s future.
Ann Cousins co-chair of the One City Environment Board outlined how Bristol’s One City Climate Strategy - launched just before lockdown to help the city become “carbon neutral and climate resilient by 2030” – was evolving to the changing circumstances. She made clear the goal hadn’t changed but the pandemic and opportunities to support the recovery are evolving how we get there – from how we work and travel to the products we make and buy.
That the AA is asking government to rethink their road building programme evidences the changing tide, suggested Ann.
Ben Breeze Bristol Sport Foundation’s chief community officer spoke of his work in promoting the benefits on physical and mental health sport and exercise can bring, signposting people to his Strava for the running and cycling routes he has discovered during lockdown.
Ben outlined work with the Department for Culture Media and Sport, Public Health England, University of Bristol and others to demonstrate the link between mental and physical health.
Taking CSR seriously, as Bristol Sport has done for many years, Ben spoke about the 17,685 meals for the most disadvantaged communities the foundation has delivered after identifying food poverty as a priority area where they could make an impact.
WECA mayor Tim Bowles set out the important work of the Economic Recovery Taskforce he has been asked by the prime minister to set up to bring together businesses.
He explained that whilst government is focused on the “here and now”, the region needs to think about the next stages of recovery. As part of this WECA is supporting councils’ schemes encouraging cycling and walking as part of a wider programme of work to improve sustainable travel, while they await funding sign-off from the treasury.
Days before shops reopened and facemasks became required on public transport, First Bus has been busy reassuring passengers who use public transport to travel around and into the city.
First Bus MD James Freeman said from this week, 76% of the network will be back with 20 seats in use on each bus, to support social distancing measures.
Annabel Smith, operations & stakeholder engagement manager at Bristol City Council, gave an overview of how the council is working with partners to bring the city back to life.
A statement of intent will be shared at the virtual City Gathering on 26 June with the One City Economy Board Recovery Strategy for Bristol developed over the coming months.
A Bristol-wide campaign will help engender a feeling of confidence in people. Annabel asked for the support of Business West’s members to help expand the campaign being led by Broadmead BID in collaboration with the city council and others.
JLL lead director Simon Peacock’s update on trends emerging in the post lockdown property market provided some insights into the sector’s response.
Although it seems clear most businesses are not planning to return to offices until late summer, the office market is slowly starting to move again.
The residential land market is active, although there was a feeling of trepidation creping in as the wider toll on the economy is better understood.
Lastly, the meeting heard that more than 90% of construction sites are back and building merchants are now largely open, although social distancing means that activity will progress more slowly than before.
Sally Hogg from Bristol City Council’s public health team echoed the messages around inspiring confidence and keeping people safe.
The government has instructed councils to create outbreak control plans and the mayor will set up a board to plan for this. As ever, communication will be key to delivering this successfully.
Communication and engagement with employees was highlighted by TUC regional secretary Nigel Costley, who said that the pandemic has exacerbated established feelings between employers and their staff. Those with engaged staff have stepped up and strengthened relationships with teams, while others have seen engagement levels dip, he said.
Building back better
There’s much more to do to rid society of inequality, but we have an opportunity to do things differently. Building back better has become a cliché but it’s reassuring to see the city’s business community not only strongly condemn racism in all its forms but to be so committed to make the region’s recovery from coronavirus an inclusive one.
The words of Bristol’s Lord Lieutenant Peaches Golding summed this up perfectly at the end of the meeting:
“There is a willingness among the population as a whole to call out injustice, prejudice and racial hatred.
“More importantly, there are those in power that are willing to drive through change to make society better, fairer, more just and productive.
“We can all act to create a better society and it is imperative to so do.”
We look forward to working with our clients and partners in Bristol to support this ambition.