The question and answer session was held before an invited audience of black and minority ethnic (‘BAME’) community leaders and business people.
Tim Bowles ( Conservative )
Darren Hall ( Green Party )
Lesley Mansell ( Labour Party )
John Savage ( Independent )
Chair : Mohammed Siddiq ( Chair )
Mohammed Siddiq opened the meeting. Mohammed is ( among his many distinctions) Managing Director ofGenECO Uk Ltd a waste management company and Chair of the Bristol Green Capital Partnership. Mohammed gave a brief overview of the situation of the position of the BAME communities in the West of England and drew attention to the recent report of the Runnymede Trust entitled ‘Local Ethnic Inequalities ‘ which, among other statistics, disclosed that in Bristol over the period from 2001 to 2011 unemployment had risen in Bristol for almost all groups , that the largest increase in unemployment was for those in the ‘Other’ and Black Caribbean group and the biggest inequality is experienced by Black African, ‘Other’ and Black Caribbean groups. Nationally unemployment figures had improved since then but inequalities persisted in the Bristol area.
Sado Jirde , Director of BSWN and co-host of the event also referred to the Runnymede Report ‘ Local Ethnic Inequalities’ which rated Bristol as the seventh most unequal city in England as far as racial inequality is concerned and she also drew attention to the disparities in education, health and housing which the report highlighted. She referred to the Bristol Manifesto for Race Equality and the work which the new Mayor of Bristol and his team were doing to challenge inequality.
She explained why Stephen Williams the Liberal Democrat candidate was not present and that a separate meeting had been held at which he was given the opportunity to put his case to an invited audience of BAME representatives as the hosts wanted all candidates to have their say and be examined by a BAME audience. Aaron Foot the UKIP candidate had been invited to attend this meeting but had not responded.
James Durie, Director, Bristol Chamber of Commerce and Initiative, representing Business West and co-host of the event set out Bristol West’s vision for sustainable growth for the region which included areas beyond Bristol , South Gloucestershire and Bath & North East Somerset and his organisation’s ambitious plans for the area which were innovative and inclusive.
The chair invited the four candidates to make an initial presentation.
Cllr. Tim Bowles ( Conservative )
Tim was elected as South Gloucestershire Councillor for the Winterbourne ward in 2010 and 2015. He is currently serving on Council committees with responsibility for allocating resources, forming policies and budgeting and is a member of the senior leadership team of the controlling Conservative group.
He has also enjoyed a successful career in sales and marketing, most recently as New Business Manager for a global events company. Tim also served as a Governor at the largest school in South Gloucestershire from 2003 to 2015 and is passionate about education. He also acts as a dementia champion, supporting charities in this field.
In his opening remarks Tim drew attention to his long experience as a local government councillor and as a member of South Gloucestershire’s leadership team. He maintained that he was a team player and was accustomed to work with representatives of all political parties for the common good and could point to examples of this. If elected as mayor he looked forward to promoting this all-party partnership approach to the work of the Metro-Mayor. He was particularly concerned about improving the skills of all the labour force and said that in his view the only thing that held people back from gaining employment or furthering their work prospects was a lack of skills. He wanted to use his powers if elected to focus on giving all who wanted to upskill the opportunity to do so.
John Savage [Independent]
John Savage is currently the Executive Chairman of the Bristol Chamber of Commerce and Initiative and Chairman of University Hospitals Bristol, although his long career has seen him actively involved in a wide variety of initiatives linking local government, businesses and charities.
His past positions and accolades include: Head of the West of England Initiative, Chief Executive of the Bristol Chamber of Commerce, Executive Chairman of Business West, a C.B.E for promoting business regeneration, High Sheriff for Bristol, and recipient of Honorary Doctorates from both Bristol universities.
John has spent his career advocating and promoting partnership working between government, local government and the private sector in order to bolster the position of the West of England and its neighbouring communities as a vibrant and vital European city region in the 21st Century.
John is a dedicated believer in the importance of the National Health Service and the concepts of the Welfare State, while also being passionately concerned about the failure of the British educational system to produce opportunities for large swathes of underprivileged young people.
This strong Christian faith and sense of social justice has defined much of his career, working – often in unpaid roles – to create better opportunities for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. These include chairing Learning Partnership West and the SW Regional Learning and Skills Council, being a patron of the local youth programme, Tomorrow’s People, and acting as a trustee of The Creative Youth Network.
Outside of his work, John’s other interests and motivations include ocean sailing, cycling, hill walking, history, music and the arts.
John apologised for feeling a bit below par as he’d just come from a dental appointment!
He made the initial point that only one of the panellists would win but like the others, no doubt, he would continue to do the work he had always done and would continue to do. His was motivated by his strong Christian faith which he saw as a civilising influence on contemporary society and he was disappointed in the way prejudice swayed so much of people’s lives. He was a working class lad from the slums of London who had worked his way up to the top and who had felt the insidious nature of class prejudice on the way. Because of this he believed fundamentally in equality.
Lesley Mansell ( Labour )
Lesley stated: ” I’ve lived and worked in the West of England for twenty years, making Radstock my home. I moved to the area in 1997, having grown up on a council estate in Leicester, where I was told by my school teacher I should expect to be “factory fodder”. I refused to accept this, working hard at school – despite being told off for reading New Musical Express in assembly – and setting my sights on being a train driver. I was to be disappointed in this ambition, starting work instead as a nursery nurse.
I became a single mother, engaged in casual work, doing several jobs at once to make ends meet. Then I started a career in engineering, working up to be a production planner in a large factory manufacturing clocks and fire alarms. I was lucky as at that time I managed to get a place in nursery for my daughter. It was while working here I joined the trade union that is now Unite and became the factory union convenor. Inspired by the suffragettes and civil rights campaigner Angela Davis, I became active in the union, particularly in the fight for equality. I campaigned for rights at work for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans people which we now have, alongside rights for women, black and disabled people. I was awarded the TUC Women’s Gold Badge for this work in 2005.
Like many others I was made redundant and went to university as a mature student. This led to a career change for me, when I began to work in equality, drawing on my trade union experience and that gained from working as a volunteer setting up a Women’s Centre among other things.
I worked at Bristol City Council as the Women’s Officer in the Equalities Department but have ten years experience working in local authorities. I am now employed in the NHS, as the Equality and Diversity Manager for North Bristol NHS Trust, working hard to ensure patients and staff are treated fairly, equally and with respect. Due to my efforts the Trust has become a leader in good practice in equality.
I have five grandchildren and in my spare time I enjoy listening to reggae, blues, classical music, West Coast psychedelic rock and collect autographs.’
Lesley, in making her initial statement stressed that she was an NHS worker and as a trade unionist had worked hard for equality and diversity. She was a strong backer of the Bristol Race Manifesto. She drew attention to the fact that as far as the public sector was concerned almost all the BAME employees were in the £15,000 to £25,000 pay bracket and somehow the public sector in Bristol had failed to deliver for its BAME citizens.
Darren Hall ( Green Party )
After growing up in Berkeley, Gloucestershire, he studied mechanical engineering at Swansea University before joining the RAF as an engineering officer. He moved to Bristol in 2001, working initially for the Home Office as a crime and drugs manager before running the council's Bristol Green Capital Partnership. Now a freelance project manager, he is involved with a variety of organisations and among his hobbies he lists surfing, cycling and photography.
Introducing himself Darren said:
"I passionately believe that this election isn't (or shouldn’t be) about local party politics; there is an incredibly important job of work to do. This is about practical, positive change to ensure Bristol & Bath have a prosperous long-term future."
"Our region is home to top quality jobs in design, technology, finance and legal sectors but we have to make sure they are fit for the future, as well as offering opportunities for all those that aren't currently part of that success story. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
"People want to be able to live somewhere that is affordable, be able to get to work easily and cheaply, and to have a secure, meaningful job so that they can look after their families.
"Most would also like to be able to do all that in a way that doesn't ruin the planet. That is what this role is all about, and with my experience as an engineer, as the director of social enterprises, and as someone who has worked for many years with government at all levels, I feel that I can reach out to communities to go beyond local politics and concentrate on delivering real, positive change."
Questions from audience
A member from the WEO said that the bane of training initiatives was that they were too short-term. Also from the point of view of BAME trainees it was one thing to provide training but owing to fundamental lack of confidence, many BAME trainees were held back and needed for support.
This is something I can sympathise with as an NHS Equality & Diversity Manager. I believe that we need an action plan as we have established in the NHS which not only supplies training but also builds up the confidence of the employee. One way of helping in this regard is to supply proper feedback after job interviews - also access to mentoring. I believe we need to do more to build confidence among the BAME communities in the education system as a whole. If more first generation BAME entrants to the work place are to have a proper chance we must make ESOL training much more accessible.
It is a failing of training initiatives that they are short-term but how do you build up confidence in people? You tell them about all the good qualities they possess and all that they can add to an enterprise from their inherent worth as people. That way you unlock their potential and build up their confidence.. This is as true of individual people as it is of communities. BAME communities have tremendous potential to offer in terms of enterprise and originality.
I know all about how it feels to be undervalued and undermined. I left school with no qualifications and a thick cockney accent (not the way I speak now!) and an inferiority complex. Fortunately someone took me under their wing and gradually my confidence was built up. Short-termism is the course of this country. Much of what my colleagues on the panel have said I would agree with. Mentoring is very important and making sure that those with talent are praised and their talents are recognised by others.
It’s the system that’s largely to blame. Hiring organisations hire people in their own likeness because they feel comfortable with them. But if you’re not investing in BAME staff you’re missing out on a whole pool of talent. Hiring practices must be changed and this is something the Mayor’s office can put into effect. Job application forms need to be anonymised so that short-leeting is done on the basis of qualifications and experience- not on the ethnicity of your name.
Another hindrance is that the government is stripping funding which limits the amount of new vacancies which the public sector can advertise.
Question from Samita Hutchison
Why is race equality important for you?
We need to ponder the fact that we are creating a whole cohort of people who somehow feel they’re not wanted or not welcome. This is morally wrong and a huge waste of talent. Why are we (the establishment) expecting those who are outside the charmed circle to accept our norms? I suggest a new Bristol Initiative to build pathways into work. We are allowing a sort of underclass of people to develop who aren’t breaking into proper fulfilling employment.
The new post of Metro-Mayor provides a platform for innovation. The mayor could set a new yardstick for equality. Why is race equality important? Apart from the fact that it is morally right, it is essential in ensuring a politically stable society. I am deeply unhappy about the Brexit decision and how some seem to see it as a licence to allow their racism to come to the surface. My wife, who is German and a barrister, sees Human Rights as being undermined and, because she is not from the UK, is particularly sensitive to some of the public rhetoric which is becoming deeply xenophobic. Personally I love learning about difference.
A recent NHS report disclosed that we are still managing to recruit more white people than the population numbers can justify. Therefore in spite of all the declarations and pledges about equality and diversity we are failing. A priority must be to eradicate racism. We need to find ways of learning about and sharing our respective cultures. Experience shows that eradicating racism is immensely difficult and there are no easy answers.
I would repeat what has been said about how this new post of mayor provides a platform from which progress can be made in eradicating racism. I have worked all over the world and enjoyed many diverse cultures. We must find ways of opening the way in for members of the BAME community who are locked out of the world of opportunity and the way in for members of the white community who are blind the wealth of talent which the BAME community can bring to an enterprise.
Cllr. Afzal Shah:
A great many members of the Bengali and Somali communities are involved in the taxi business and are therefore as small business people yet seem to have very little political leverage. In contrast with the London Cab Company, taxi businesses in the Bristol/Bath area are usually overlooked at the usual business/local authority forums despite the huge social value which they fulfil. This is symptomatic of the way BAME small and medium enterprises ( ‘ SMEs’) are treatedand so they tend to lose out when council procurement is concerned.
Will the candidates if elected look at the taxi business as part of a total regional transportation system and look at the protocols which regulate the Hackney Carriage trade which are not working?
The Councillor has a strong point. The trouble is that from a local authority standpoint Hackney Carriages are view ed under the category ‘ Licensing’ instead of being what should be an integrated transportation service. I will take this on board if elected.
Also: it is true that SMEs get overlooked when council procurement contracts are out for tender and what needs to be done is for the local authority to operate training for the small business sector so that everyone gets a fair chance.
Experience of the sector has taught me that local authorities on tight budgets and under pressure from all sides working with minimal staff find it easier to deal with large companies’ experience in working with the public sector. They know the system and present tenders a la carte. Local authorities are simply not geared up to dealing with SMEs who need help and coaching to work with the system.
As for the Hackney Carriage Trade there needs to be a collective voice for the trade and of course taxis must be seen as part of an integrated transportation system
The Metro-Mayor will have strategic authority in connection with housing. Why is there no real help from our local LEP in the area of housing regeneration? Here you scarcely see any black faces and community involvement in community regeneration. In the US they do it so differently.
Enlighten us as to how they do things differently in the US?
They see as their business to involve BAME businesses: they help local SMEs to obtain procurement contracts. The US equivalents of our LEPs are so much more diverse.
I can vouch for the fact that a community meeting I recently attended in Bath to discuss local development consisted of white men in suits and you had to pay £15 to get in! The LEP needs to be challenged on visibility and there needs to be a change of direction in the style and quality of leadership which is too business rather than people oriented.
I have to declare an interest here as someone who has dealt a great deal with the local LEP. In the US they’ve been doing this sort of thing continuously since the end of the Second World War whereas LEPs as such only were introduced here in 2010. Bristol Chamber of Commerce has tried to make it work but the trouble is that the government keeps meddling and changing the rules. They keep neutering the business input so that policies and working strategies which LEPs have set up never are left to work as they are intended.
In my view talk along the lines just discussed is unrealistic. Such actions would be ultra vires of the Metro Mayor. You should look to the LEP itself for these reforms.
( Lesley Mansell had to leave at this stage to keep another appointment )
In order to meet austerity cuts Local Government has been out-sourcing work to the private sector and this has resulted in a huge increase in de-skilling. I estimate that about 100,000 of the work force need skilling up in order to have a properly equipped work force for the 21st centrury. Local Government has a duty to keep local government work and competences in-house thereby providing the underskilled with the opportunity to acquire skills. Also, we should be aiming at ensuring that those working in the public sector should at least be earning the national average wage.
I want to concentrate on channelling resources into providing skills training for those aged 19+ as there are skills shortages in all communities – not just BAME communities. I think there is a dearth of ‘soft’ skills such as computer skills and language skills.
This area – adult education- and skills training is SO important. Because of my background in industry and training this is an area very dear to me and in which I can offer an awful lot of experience. I regret to say that there’s rather a lot of manoeuvring and politicking goes on in the background which gets in the way of delivering effective skills training and if elected I’m determined to sort this out as our failure in this field is devastating . There are five generations of people who have been out of work because we have failed to provide them with the skills to hold down a job.
If there’s a stitch-up in awarding training contracts then I would suggest an independent Metro-Mayor would be better placed to correct the situation and as Green candidate I have no links to the mainstream parties. I would agree that there’s a lack of transparency. In my work capacity I’ve attended two ‘secret’ meetings recently where the awarding of contracts was agreed ‘because of business confidentiality’. This won’t do. There ought to be stake-holder participation.
The issue of a skills deficit among BAME people is a long-standing issue. The statistics have been there for years. What are you going to do about it?
Leadership is needed. There are too many ‘declarations’ and ‘policies’ stuck up on walls of organisations full of pious words. Personally I don’t like the expression ‘inclusive’ because everyone of whatever background needs to benefit from adult education and training. Both local government and business must look outwards and identify what are the obstacles which prevent those wanting education and training from getting it and those looking for ways into training and education must be guided and helped to find their way into education and training ( ‘ Seeing out ‘ and ‘ seeing in’ )
How do you see these channels being opened up?
I think BAME business communities need to be helped to market their skills and advertise their training needs better
It is certainly true that this situation (BAME training needs: marketing of BAME business skills) has been around a long time as well as all sorts of declarations and policies purporting to address the problem
Well, we should be putting these policies into practice then, instead of ticking boxes. BAME businesses must be given the chance to show what they can do.
I’m afraid local government hasn’t delivered and again I would emphasise that an independent non-political metro-mayor would find it easier to knock heads together. The Government made a lot of noise about localism but nothing really changed. We really do need to give local small business a chance.
The government has promised a resource allocation of up to £1 billion over the four year period of the Metro Mayor’s term of office. In view of what you’ve been saying about the importance of adult education and training do you have any proposals to ring-fence some of that allocation?
I’m not sure we’ve been given powers to ring fence any areas of expenditure. Bear in mind we’ve got to get 100% agreement from the overview and scrutiny committee. It looks as if the budget for skills may amount to £30 million. I think what we’ve got to do is show some small gains with the £30 million we’ve been allocated and then on the basis of success ask for more.
Question from representative of Somali community:
Our young people are still struggling to find work.
Yes I am afraid that we have to admit there are some hot spots but part of the challenge is to motivate kids about the job opportunities which exist and knocking down the boundaries which seem to prevent kids getting access to the job opportunities. ( Here he talked about a school where the children were making aero engines out of lego in an attempt to interest them in aeronautical engineering )
But why is there such a disproportionate number of BAME youngsters out of work?
Returned to his theme of ‘seeing ways in and seeing ways out’. ( see above ). He also suggested that there was work to be done with careers advisers here.
Young member of Somali Community:
What actual experience have you had of working with and consulting young BAME people?
A good point . I think the Metro mayor should have a consultative Youth Group whose task it would be advise the Metro Mayor
The majority of businesses adhere to a traditional business model into which there is an element of institutional racism. We need to design a new business model. Class is still a feature of British society and this permeates business and also the educational system. In my view we have an educational system in England which works very well for about 20% of the population but we need to design an educational system which works for everybody. If you don’t re-invest in business it is unlikely to grow. (‘You need money to make money’). Also to get the best out of your work force you need to look after them and invest in them. The paradox is that people don’t believe in innovations until they’ve been up and running for years.
The key is having a first class education system.
Do you believe in the retention of grammar schools?
I believe in giving the best education to everyone.
I don’t think you’ve answered the question. Do you believe in selective education?
I believe in the best education for everyone.
Young Somali Girl:
Application forms almost always have an equality and diversity form for you to fill in. This makes it possible for a prospective employer to filter out BAME applicants. Even if you just have to fill in your name, ‘foreign-sounding’ names can stigmatise a candidate who is judged in his/her ethnicity and not on skills and ability.
[ At this stage Tim Bowles left to keep another appointment. Also, James Durie excused himself and left having distributed leaflets about Business West]
We must actively champion BAME young people who excel, just as we must offer support to those at the other end of the achievement ladder such as ex offenders to help them back into employment and training. Despite what I said earlier, the trouble with anonymising applications is that then you don’t know what categories of people aren’t achieving or are being discriminated against
What needs to be acknowledged is the success small BAME businesses have had in bringing life and enterprise to run-own parts of the city. We need to study this and find ways of assisting such enterprises to climb up the next stage of the growth ladder.
There is also a glass ceiling which is preventing BAME doctors progressing up the promotion ladder and a problem (when there is such a shortage of doctors) enabling overseas and refugee doctors to re-qualify here. ESOL training is not freely available.
The availability of ESOL is so important. This is something the Bristol Race Equality Manifesto highlights. You cannot complain about BAME people not ‘integrating’ and then deny them access to the one thing that would enable them to mingle and integrate – namely a command of the English language.
Who could deny that? Surely there is a role for LEPs to help with the funding of ESOL training? He referred to his Christian faith once more and said he simply could not understand the tendency of the human race to separate people instead of bringing them together.
I see the role of the Metro Mayor as giving a lead not on his/her own (because the resources at the disposal of the Metro Mayor are limited as well as the powers allocated to the office) but on enabling others to get things done
Woman from NHS Trust:
People always go on about raising the confidence of BAME people and ‘empowering’ us. The problem is not so much our lack of self confidence but the lack of confidence which the white community has in us. We feel we have to over-compensate all the time. We do not have ‘special needs’!
Well, I can’t walk on water! I repeat that I am truly independent and do not represent a special interest. I can only do this job with the help of all of you. It is true that there isn’t a huge pot of money available to throw at the specific areas of responsibility of the Metro Mayor: economic growth, skills training, transport infrastructure and the facilitation of the building of new homes. My priority will be to ensure that we deliver as much as we can within these four areas and to ensure that the government doesn’t pull the rug from under us as we plan the future.
I agree. This has to be a collective effort and the job of the mayor is to make people work together. We have an opportunity to make a better more sustainable world.
Thank you very much panellists and thank you all for attending in such encouraging numbers and for your penetrating questions.