Negus: Bristol demands better for libraries

In response to the Council's Libraries Strategy, Bristol Liberal Democrats leader Cllr Anthony Negus has made the following statement:

"Bristol Lib Dems welcome the prospect of a Libraries strategy – but despite the title, this is not what Cabinet approved last week. Instead, there will be conversations with people interested in each of the present library buildings. We heard variously that libraries are to be community-run, maintained as an overall city-led and paid-staff run service (with some exceptions!) There was the talk of trusts, asset transfers and even commercialisation but too little on what libraries should be for. The University of Bristol believes their £80m investment in a new library will pay dividends. The Lib Dems are proud of the four new libraries we created and the role we have played in Scrutiny and in Council to make the Mayor think again about our library service. But last week it was said that there was no guarantee of money to sustain our 27 libraries until 2020, and there was no vision or leadership for a long-term plan beyond that date. 

"My request for at least a minimum delivery standard across the entire system was not answered and the executive member regularly said that libraries should not be seen as buildings. This flags up the concern that they will go virtual (online). Rather than sustain and improve our delivery of this essential service, existing library buildings will be seen instead as a soft touch for asset-stripping or downgrading to something immediately wanted by a local group rather than needed for the long-term by the wider community. One of the Cabinet has made it clear her preference to demolish her local library and replace it with housing.

"Some will see this as a popular proposal and look good on local leaflets but, to use the Mayor’s term for building an arena in Bristol, this would be a vanity project built over the wreckage of a public offering of long-term skills and learning to the community. As anyone who has listened to the Cabinet webcast will know, my intervention highlighted this known political mission and I stick by it. Reversing Austerity should start with a vision for the future and move on to delivering better opportunities for all. Personal growth is the most valuable kind. 

"There are a large number of community buildings provided over many years as a panacea for deprived areas by previous Labour administrations which are now underused or falling into expensive disrepair. The Lib Dems support much of the current administration’s attempts to build new affordable and Council housing alongside private dwellings by agreements with developers. We are also keen to see bold civic enterprise in better use of redundant city-owned assets alongside those of other public bodies. Active library buildings are a long way down this list. If we want to deliver essential housing then we can do this more effectively and in greater numbers elsewhere.

"Bristol Lib Dems have suggested a vision that sustains its library service to be fit for future benefits. We will look imaginatively to modernise, relocate, co-locate and even to accept revenue-earning features. But our sustainable model will not asset-strip Bristol’s vital resources for short-term headlines. Bristol demands better."

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Bristol SU backs People's Vote campaign

University of Bristol Students' Union has backed the People's Vote campaign, calling for a referendum on the terms of the final Brexit deal. 

The Students' Union - which represents 22,000 members - has backed the anti-Brexit campaign. This follows a motion, proposed by Bristol Liberal Democrat Students, passed at the union's Annual Members' Meeting called for Bristol SU to formally oppose Brexit in any form.

73% of under-25s voted to remain in the EU in 2016. It is estimated that further 1.5 million young people have become eligible to vote since the referendum.

Max Langer, Clifton campaigner and Chair of the Bristol Liberal Democrat Students, said:

"Brexit will be the biggest hit to young people's opportunities since the financial crash and so it is brilliant to see Bristol SU standing up to fight for their member's futures.

"I look forward to seeing lots of University of Bristol students at the march, demanding a People's Vote with the option to remain. Here in Bristol, we will continue to press our Labour MP to join our cause and to listen to her young constituents."

James Cox, Lib Dem Bristol West Parliamentary Spokesperson and post-graduate student, added:

"It is remarkable that the government has decided to pursue such an ideological Brexit, one of the only times a government has acted so relentlessly to build a future against the expressed wishes of those who will have to inhabit that future. 

"I am very proud that the University of Bristol's students are making their voice heard and are standing up for the opportunities of young people. I urge, once again, our local MP Thangam Debbonaire to listen to her constituents and to act in their best interests." 

The Student Union is offering a free coach service for interested students to the upcoming People's Vote March for the Future in London on Saturday, October 20th. It is anticipated to be the largest pro-European march yet. 

The government is expecting to present its deal to Parliament in November. 

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Freedom to fly vital for region’s airport

The Liberal Democrats’ Bristol West Parliamentary Spokesperson has highlighted the importance of maintaining the freedom to fly between the UK and Europe in any Brexit agreement.

Under the current arrangement, all UK-EU flights fall under the legal protections of several EU aviation agreements and bodies. However, in the event of a “cliff-edge” or no deal Brexit, the UK would fall out of the EU’s single aviation market. In an extreme case, this could mean that no flights will be able to fly between the UK and the European Union.

Regional airports like Bristol Airport rely heavily on European flights, with 94% of flights operating through Bristol going to or from the European Union.

Unlike trade, where a worst-case scenario would have the UK fall back onto World Trade Organization rules, there is no equivalent for the aviation industry, a reality which has sparked strong concerns. 

James Cox, Liberal Democrats Bristol West Parliamentary Spokesperson, said:

“The result of these technical notices is clear. No deal is not an option. For airports like Bristol, an ambitious hub for our area, they rely on their ability to get free access to the European Union. Every day the government refuses to rule out taking the aviation industry off a cliff, they risk growth, investment and jobs.

“The Prime Minister says she wants to work in the national interest. Its time she, her party and the opposition got real and pledged to put whatever deal – or none – she comes back with to the country in a people’s vote with the option to remain in the EU.”

A spokesperson from Bristol Airport said:

“The scenarios set out in these technical notices highlight the importance of continued access to aviation connectivity for people and businesses across the UK and the EU. Bristol Airport’s customers can be confident that, along with the rest of the airport industry, we continue to work closely with the Government to ensure continuity of safe and easy air travel post-Brexit.”

This follows news today from airline Thomas Cook who has announced that passengers will not receive compensation for expenses in the event of their flights being grounded due to Brexit. 

  • The government is expected to put the deal with the EU before parliament in November, however, after the Prime Minister’s Chequers plan was rebuffed by the EU it remains unclear if the UK can secure a comprehensive deal.
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Langer: Plan for complex economy demands complex solutions

Liberal Democrats passed a motion at conference which seeks to tackle inequality by reforming corporate governance and bringing about a system of life-long training to give people the skills needed to adapt to the changing workplace. 

Speaking at conference, Clifton campaigner Max Langer:

"We are living in a time of inequality, levels of which we've not experienced since the beginning of the twentieth century. And this phenomenon is especially prevalent in Western English speaking countries due to our reckless corporate culture.

"In this motion, by taking stakeholders and giving them a say in how companies are run and how their managers are paid, we can start to tackle this culture working to bridge this gap. 

"Whilst productivity has slowed, technology is developing faster than ever. Therefore, our systems of training need to change in order to keep up. Simply training people when they are 18 years old is no longer good enough, and by implementing the life-long training schemes proposed by the Liberal Democrats we will be better able to meet the demands of the future. 

"The Liberal Democrat plan looks at our complex economy for what it is and seeks to answers to answer the problems with complex solutions - not quick fixes."

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Cox: No young person should be left to suffer in silence

Liberal Democrats passed an emergency motion at their conference which aims to tackle the high rates of self-harm amongst children and young people.

Speaking at the conference, Bristol West Parliamentary Spokesperson, James Cox said:

"The University of Bristol has built itself a reputation as a world leader in research and higher education, but, tragically, over the last eighteen months, it has acquired a new reputation. It has been described as the "suicide capital of the UK" with an "epidemic" of suicides amongst its students. 

"The link between self-harm and suicide is often discussed. For some, it is a way to take control of their pain, for others a cry for help that too often goes unheard. I am living with a mental health condition, but I am lucky that I recognised the signs earlier, sought help and am undergoing treatment. Others, too often tragically, are not so lucky. 

"The numbers of young people, particularly young girls and those from the LGBT+ community, who self-harm shows that they are being let down by systems and institutions that are supposed to protect them. 

"I am proud of the Lib Dems' commitment to ending injustice in mental health and the focus on self-harm that has been unanimously approved the conference. Our education and healthcare systems must work more closely together in protecting young people and students. Depressive episodes and mental distress are now becoming commonplace on campuses and in schools across the country. With far too many being let down the postcode lottery in our mental health services, schools and universities should be offering counselling and pastoral care to students and staff. 

"No young person should be left to suffer in silence. Liberal Democrats demand better for young people and better mental health services."

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Unanimous support for Lib Dems' SEND funding motion

Bristol City Council voted unanimously to back the Lib Dems' motion to restore funding to the special education needs and disability education budget. The motion follows a high court ruling which determined that the council's proposed cuts to the SEND budget were illegal in a groundbreaking case.

The motion will force the council to come back with a revised funding plan that restores funding to the High Needs Block and to develop an action plan to improve the outcomes for children with SEND throughout Bristol.

Cllr Tim Kent, Bristol Lib Dem Finance Spokesperson and mover of the motion, said:

"In our city, schools have increasingly seen the funding for children reduced. Top up funding has been slashed and that has had a significant negative impact on children and schools.

"I think the cabinet made a catastrophic mistake in January in agreeing to such large cuts to SEND. Let us not fool ourselves we all made that mistake. None of us noticed at the time. Thankfully a small group of parents were more diligent and their action has given us a second chance.

"We should not be here but we are. Parents and children should not have been denied their lawful rights. But they have. Funding should be provided to meet need but it hasn’t. That is the past, that is the present, let us today agree that it will not be the future for children with special education needs and disabilities here in our city.

"I am pleased that the council backed this motion unanimously and I look forward to seeing the recommendations of the Scrutiny Task and Finish group."

 

The motion also moves the council to endorse the British Dyslexia Association definition of Dyslexia and pledges to engage with Dyslexia Awareness week (1st-7th October) and go green.

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Mayor’s Arena decision ‘called-in’ by senior councillors

The Mayor’s decision to drop the proposal for an Arena at Temple Meads has been blocked by senior councillors who have used their power to ‘call-in’ the decision.

The Mayor had decided to end Bristol’s ambition for an Arena in the city at Temple Meads and instead decided to enter into a commercial relationship with L&G to develop a hotel and housing on the site with a possibility of a conference centre. The decision came after 50 councillors (including the Mayor) had voted the day before that the best site for the Arena was at Temple Meads.

Councillors have the power to call-in a decision of the Mayor which is then sent to a Scrutiny committee for debate. The committee can decide to reject the call in, send it back to the Mayor to decide with advice or send to Full Council for debate and then back to the Mayor.

Cllr Mark Weston, Leader of the Conservative Group said: 

“Whilst it is appreciated that this move is likely to cause the Mayor a certain amount of annoyance, it would be remiss of us not to exhaust every avenue available to try to save this project.


“We still believe that the best use for Arena Island is for the much promised Bristol Arena.

“The Mayor himself argued that Arena Island was the best site for an Arena, before he then decided to approve a different scheme on the site.

“In addition, it is now clear that there have been some very obvious flaws in the decision-making process itself, evidenced by the fact that this call-in, submitted in concert with the Lib Dems, has been accepted as valid and grounds for review.

“The Mayor will now have one last chance to revisit and reconsider his actions on this issue, the ramifications of which will impact upon Bristol residents for decades to come.”

Cllr Tim Kent, Liberal Democrat Finance Spokesperson said: 

“We have taken this step to give the Mayor a chance to reconsider the decision he has made and be informed by other options which we feel have not been properly explored. We especially feel the Mayor should meet with Mr Goldsmith to fully explore his offer to deliver the project with a private partner.

“This is not just about an Arena, it is about a major leisure venue that would produce nearly £1/2 billion of income for the city centre area and its businesses over the next 25 years. Hundreds of jobs and businesses could depend on the delivery of a unique venue that the city has waited so long for. Failure could deliver a major blow to the heart of our shopping centre and the aspirations of our residents and city.”

The call-in by the councillors raises 18 separates grounds where they feel the decision has not complied with the principles as laid out in Article 14 of the councils constitution.
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Boundary review meaningless without proportional representation

Today the government published the results of its long-awaited boundary reviews. The plans include a proposal to reduce the number of constituencies down to 600 from 650. The Liberal Democrats have criticised the proposals not only for their perceived bias towards the Conservatives but its lack of commitment to changing from the first-past-the-post voting system. 

Constituencies in Bristol are seeing changes to their make-up, with Easton ward moving from Bristol West to Bristol East. The movement has been criticised by some as Lawrence Hill and Easton will be, despite their local and cultural links, moved into different constituencies. The South West will see its number of representatives drop from 55 to 53. 

James Cox, Lib Dem Parliamentary Spokesperson for Bristol West and supporter of Make Votes Matter, said:

"The boundary review exposes the fault line right at the heart of our democracy. Whilst the Tories move a ward here and merge a constituency there, they are fundamentally disenfranchising most voters in our country by sticking with the outdated first-past-the-post system. This is a system that delivers weak governments who lack a democratic mandate and the broad support of the country. 

"Bristol West has had some of the highest numbers of wasted votes in the country at elections. People don't feel that their vote matters. It's a shame that Thangam Debbonaire refuses to get behind the campaign to make votes matter. 

"Labour has accused the Conservatives of 'gerrymandering' with the boundary reviews, but their outrage is hollow whilst they continue to refuse to back moving to a proportional system of voting. It is time that all parties joined together and demanded better of our politics."

The boundary review will be subject to a vote in the House of Commons. The boundary review had been previously blocked by the Liberal Democrats after the Conservatives reneged on House of Lords reform. 

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'No vehicle idling zones' to cut air pollution and save lives

In a bid to combat the excessive amount of air pollution on Bristol's roads, the Liberal Democrats have submitted a motion to the council for 'no vehicle idling zones' to be erected throughout the city. 

The zones, which have been adopted by other local authorities including Bury and Southampton, aim to cut emissions from cars which remain on whilst idle in traffic. 

Bristol's levels of air pollution currently exceed the safe limit set by both the European Union and the World Health Organization. Bristol's poor air quality is believed to be responsible for around 300 extra deaths every year. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and Public Health England (PHE) produced new guidance last year that recommended “no vehicle idling” areas in places where health-vulnerable people collect, such as outside schools, hospitals and care homes, and in areas where exposure to road-traffic-related air pollution is high.

The Bristol Liberal Democrats are keen to extend the use of these zones in Bristol, particularly to cover schools and children's play areas in order to reduce the risks to young people. The Lib Dems have also proposed working with NHS partners to extend the scheme to outside medical buildings and hospital pick-up points.

Mark Wright, Councillor for Hotwells & Harborside, said:

"Most people are well aware that air quality in Bristol is very poor, and that serious harm is done to health as a result.

"While we can all argue about how necessary certain journeys might be, I’m sure we can all agree that there is no justification for engines left running while stationary for long periods of time; or for most instances of diesel generators running outside, now that good battery-powered alternatives exist.

"Last year National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, and Public Health England called on local councils to implement “no vehicle idling” areas in places where health-vulnerable people collect, such as outside schools, hospitals and care homes, and in parks.

"My motion to Council aims to put an end to totally unnecessary air pollution coming from idling engines and generators in our most vulnerable areas.

Full council will meet to potentially discuss this and other motions on September 11th

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Bristol Lib Dems respond to the Mayor's arena recommendation

At today's Cabinet meeting the Mayor passed a recommendation to use the Temple Island site for a mixed-use commercial development, rather than the arena. The Bristol Liberal Democrat group is disappointed that the Mayor has failed to listen to the majority of councillors and Bristol citizens. The Lib Dems believe that this decision jeopardises the arena project and fails to provide best value to the people of Bristol.

Responding to the Cabinet's recommendation Anthony Negus, Bristol Liberal Democrat Group Leader, said:

“The Liberal Democrats are very disappointed that despite the large measure of belief from the people of Bristol and councillors about locating the arena at the centre of the city, to support our growth and opportunities for supportive businesses, the Mayor has decided to make a balance sheet decision. This does not demonstrate the confidence that he should be giving out for Bristol and sustaining it's heart.”

Gary Hopkins, Bristol Liberal Democrat Deputy Group Leader, added:

“When all the parties except for the Mayor, who failed to turn up, were questioned and cross-examined by the four party scrutiny commission the evidence was clear and they voted ten to one to build the arena at Temple Meads. The decision by the Labour Mayor is a disaster for the cultural and financial well-being of Bristol”

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