If you live in my part of Bristol, you will probably have heard about the Easton Cowboys and Cowgirls. Starting years ago as a mates’ football kick-around, this Sunday league team has grown to a sports club with a difference – it’s the way they do it.
Now including football, netball and cricket, with their own pub HQ (The Plough), the Cowboys are a campaigning force to be reckoned with, as well as a social club and much more. They are internationalist in focus, as well as local – the Easton Cowgirls, for instance, toured the Occupied Palestinian Territories a few years back, playing women-only teams. The club has played a leading role in world anti-racism cup, the alternative World Cup and many missions of peace and understanding through football – to Mexico, to Palestine and across Europe as well as the UK.
As a new MP, I was contacted by some of the Cowboys as they had been befriending and supporting a young man who was at risk of deportation back to a country where he would have faced violence because of his sexuality – my office was able to help get the deportation stopped, but it was the Cowboys who supported him, helped welcome him to the city and campaigned for him.
My nephew and several friends play with the Cowboys, so I guess I am a bit partial – so apologies to all other Sunday league teams! But I wanted to highlight the value of football as a social activity which brings people together across the world, as well as the campaigning zeal of this Easton institution. They demonstrate everything which is great about Bristol.
Featured on TV programmes and in the social life of East Bristol, they are an infamous bunch, who bring joy to many via the hook of sport.
After I spoke in the Chamber, I went up to the Hansard clerks – who type up every single word we say every day (poor them!) for the official record – to make sure they spelled the name Easton not Eastern, and even the Hansard clerk there said ‘no, it’s fine, I know who they are!’
So, at this time of the official World Cup (and good luck England for Tuesday!) I salute all amateur sports clubs, but I’m particularly proud to be able to put on the official Hansard record for the House of Commons my celebration of the Easton Cowboys and Cowgirls. I love you guys!
If you live in my part of Bristol, you will probably have heard about the Easton Cowboys and Cowgirls. Starting years ago as a mates’ football kick-around, this Sunday league...
This week European Union leaders will meet to discuss migration policy. This is an opportunity to prevent some of the dangerous journeys which have taken the lives of hundreds of refugees over the last few years.
The EU must create a safe and legal route for refugees. As part of this effort, the EU could set up facilities to process resettlement applications in countries such as Lebanon and Jordan. These countries are under huge strain, accommodating millions of people in overstretched and often dangerous refugee camps. In this situation, it is not surprising that people risk perilous journeys in boats or lorries in search of a better life in Europe.
The EU needs to take shared responsibility for refugees. What is the EU for, if not to share responsibility for the most vulnerable people? And Brexit does not mean that the UK can drop this responsibility. After the UK leaves the EU, it should continue to cooperate closely on refugee policy.
We are living through a global refugee crisis, which will not be solved by closing borders or building walls.
This week European Union leaders will meet to discuss migration policy. This is an opportunity to prevent some of the dangerous journeys which have taken the lives of hundreds of...
Everyone, just about, loves the National Health Service.
I’ve had hundreds, if not thousands, of emails from Bristol West constituents on the NHS and many, many, conversations on the same topic.
Of all these interactions, no-one has ever asked me to ask the government to spend less on the NHS. In fact, most suggest the country should spend more. I agree.
Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt recently announced extra funds for the NHS. This is good news. Independent organisations such as the King’s Fund and the National Audit Office as well as influential policy makers from across all parties have said the NHS needs more money.
So why am I not thrilled by the announcement?
Firstly, it falls short of what the NHS needs. The Health Foundation, a recognised authority on NHS finance, has said that this is “simply not enough.” The 3.4% increase is little more than the 3.3% increase the NHS needs to maintain current levels, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
Secondly, much of this funding is just reinstating some of the cuts made during eight years of successive Tory and Tory-led governments. Over this period, health workers have repeatedly been asked to do more for less, and while increasing efficiency is positive, health staff tell me they can cut no further without risking patients.
And the NHS is affected by cuts to other departments too. Cuts to local government funding have slashed social care provision by £7 billion. This means some people are unable to leave hospital, even when they are ready, as they need help at home. This delays others in receiving the treatment they need.
A failure to prioritise public health more broadly has other negative consequences for NHS budgets. Cuts to sexual health services lead to increased rates of sexually transmitted diseases, for example. Failure to implement a sugar tax or minimum alcohol unit pricing has an impact on levels of obesity. All this puts the NHS under even more strain.
This situation means morale in the NHS is often low, leading to staffing shortages. There are chronic shortages in certain areas, such as radiology. A large number of GPs are taking early retirement while an insufficient number of doctors are entering general practice to replace them. In turn, this means hospitals and other providers are forced to buy in expensive agency staff and locums, to the tune of £3 billion per year – another hit to the NHS budget.
The Tory programme of cuts was leading to disaster, something which has been evident for some time. Waiting lists have gone up to 4 million and 26,000 cancer patients had to wait more than 60 days for treatment. In January 2017, the NHS was so underfunded it caused a “humanitarian crisis” according to the Red Cross.
Many of these stories are human tragedies too, no doubt resulting in avoidable complications, illnesses and deaths. The announcement of more funding for the NHS is long overdue, but the Government should not be congratulated for getting us into this mess in the first place.
Everyone, just about, loves the National Health Service. I’ve had hundreds, if not thousands, of emails from Bristol West constituents on the NHS and many, many, conversations on the same...
This week is Refugee Week.
This is an opportunity to celebrate the huge contribution that refugees make to this country. My own constituency of Bristol West has been particularly enriched by people who have made long and arduous journeys across continents, fleeing war, persecution and disaster.
Refugee week is also time for serious reflection. It’s a time to ask ourselves, can we improve the way we treat refugees? I believe we can. Earlier today I gave a speech in the House of Commons outlining key policies which could change many people's lives.
We are currently living through a global migration crisis. 65 million people were forcibly displaced in 2016 through poverty, environmental disaster, war, conflict and persecution.We have moral, as well as legal, obligations to assist. We currently take a tiny fraction of these people.
Refugee Family Reunion is one area where can make a difference. Current laws and international agreements exist to help reunite families separated by wars and disasters. But they do not go far enough, leaving many refugee families separated by international borders.
This may be changing. MPs from across the country turned up in significant numbers recently for a Second Reading of a Private Members’ Bill on Refugee Family Reunion and a right to Legal Aid. The high attendance was all the more remarkable since this happened on a Friday, usually a constituency day. This indicates not only that MPs care about the rights of refugees to be reunited with their families but that their constituents are also concerned.
It seems the argument has cut through: someone with confirmed refugee status should be able to live with their family. Coordinated lobbying by refugee organisations has made a difference to public and political opinion. I will be working to capitalise on this and push for the progress of this Bill and a separate, similar Bill from the House of Lords.
Child refugees and the EU Withdrawal Bill
The Brexit process sometimes feels like one step forwards, two steps backwards. Under EU law, the UK is currently obliged to reunite children with family members, but this will no longer apply after the UK leaves the EU, potentially blocking a vital route for desperate children who are extremely vulnerable to traffickers and criminals.
The Labour Peer (and my friend) Alf Dubs tabled an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill, aiming to maintain the law which allows children to be reunited with their siblings in the UK. Few people are better placed to make the case for child refugees than Lord Dubs, who himself arrived in the UK as a child refugee.
I was glad to see that the Government took on a large part of Lord Dubs’ amendment. My colleague Yvette Cooper went even further, proposing additional changes to maintain the current situation, allowing child refugees to be reunited with uncles and aunts in the UK. The Attorney General agreed to look again at Yvette’s amendment. This is a small, yet positive, step in the right direction.
The right to work
Refugees should also have a right to work. They often come with skills, and want to work and contribute to the country. They don’t want to depend on state benefits. But currently they are not allowed to work, except with specific permission, until they have been granted asylum by the Home Office.
The Home Office target to complete asylum decisions within six months is frequently missed, often by months or even years. Meanwhile people are left without opportunities to maintain their skills, support their families and contribute to the national and local economy. They even have restrictions on volunteering.
In contrast to the UK, Uganda not only allows refugees to work immediately, it provides them with land to grow food and start-up finance to set up their own businesses.
We should, at the very least, introduce a right to work after six months – which would also encourage the Home Office to end delays – and the right to volunteer until they can work. I would prefer us to move towards a system where they can work immediately.
Fair treatment can save lives
There are many other things we can do to improve the way we treat refugees. This includes ending indefinite immigration detention, restoring Legal Aid, prioritising free, high-quality English teaching and doing more to create safe and legal routes to the UK with refugee schemes. If we made it easier to make in-country or border applications for asylum and resettlement, it could save lives.
Keeping people in refugee camps, at best, leaves people in limbo for years; at worst it creates a recruiting ground for traffickers and people who sexually exploit women.
The forthcoming Immigration Bill may give us scope to support amendments on many of these areas. We also need to create other opportunities to improve the treatment of those looking for sanctuary in this country.
As Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees, in my work in Westminster and my work with constituents in Bristol West, I will continue to fight to give refugees the welcome they deserve.
This week is Refugee Week. This is an opportunity to celebrate the huge contribution that refugees make to this country. My own constituency of Bristol West has been particularly enriched...
Today was one of the most important days in Parliament since the Government triggered Article 50 -which I voted against - more than a year ago. Today we voted for an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill which would have given Parliament a ‘meaningful vote’ on any final deal the Government strikes with the EU. If successful, Parliament would have had the power to instruct the Government to go back to the negotiating table.
Unfortunately, the amendment was rejected by 26 votes. However, this is not the end of the story – the Bill will go back to the Lords, and then come back to the Commons.
There are reports that the Prime Minister only avoided a humiliating defeat by buying off Tory rebels with a promise: when the Bill goes back to the House of Lords, the Tories will back an amendment to give Parliament a vote. In contrast to the Labour-backed amendment, this vote is unlikely to be legally binding. But the fact that we may have forced compromise on this point gives me some hope. In any case, we will have more opportunities to challenge the Government when this Bill, the Trade Bill and the Customs Bill all return to the Commons.
For anyone watching the Government’s inept Brexit negotiations, the need for Parliamentary scrutiny of a final deal becomes clearer every day, as their promises (and the promises of the referendum campaign) drop away one by one. So it is very important that we can hold them to account, on behalf of our constituents.
This is the real will of the people. Indeed, although only a small majority voted to leave the EU, there was no majority for irreparably damaging our economy. It is worth stating that the will of the people in my constituency was overwhelmingly to remain in the EU. I reluctantly accept that we may now be leaving – but I cannot accept a disastrous deal. I still firmly believe that full membership of the EU is the best possible deal, but failing that, our relationship should be as close as possible.
I will keep fighting to give Parliament an opportunity to make a judgement when the time comes, ensuring we get the best possible outcome.
During this afternoon’s first batch of voting on the EU Withdrawal Bill, there were 15 other votes. All these amendments were voted down by the Tories.
Most were technical amendments that would have improved the Bill. Several aimed to prevent the Government from grabbing additional legal powers through this legislation. Without Tory rebels we did not have the number of MPs to keep these amendments on the Bill.
There will be further debate and many more votes on the EU Withdrawal Bill tomorrow, before it goes back to the House of Lords. Tomorrow’s votes include key amendments which aim to maintain hard-won environmental protections and workers’ rights after we leave the EU. Keep an eye on my Twitter feed, Facebook and website for updates.
A note on voting
Please note that I was a ‘teller’ in these votes – counting the number of votes and reporting them to the Speaker. Tellers are listed separately, but our votes still count.
Another confusing aspect is that I voted NO when I support the Lord’s amendments. This is because I voted against the Government's motions to remove the Lords’ amendments.
Today was one of the most important days in Parliament since the Government triggered Article 50 -which I voted against - more than a year ago. Today we voted for...
This week the EU Withdrawal Bill returns from weeks of debate in the House of Lords. This blog sets out how I will be voting, and why, aiming to shine some light on this complicated process.
You may remember the EU Withdrawal Bill was in the Commons back in December. At that point, we made a significant gain on the right to have a vote in Parliament on the government’s exit deal for the UK with the EU (the so-called ‘Grieve amendment’, also known as the ‘meaningful vote’). This took a lot of work, from backbench MPs on all sides of the Commons but also from us Whips, managing colleagues who support ‘Leave’ or represent leave-voting constituencies. The amendment was passed by a crucial majority of four votes.
All other Labour amendments were voted down by the government and their backbench MPs. There were hardly any rebellions by Tory MPs on anything other than the meaningful vote – indicating that this is likely to again be the most contentious area.
The Lords’ amendments
In the Lords, our Labour colleagues were able to convince more peers from other parties to vote with them so they successfully got 14 significant amendments to the Bill through.
This week we will be trying to keep these amendments in the Bill by voting against the Government, which will be proposing motions to remove them. That means we will be voting ‘no’ in most cases, in order to keep these amendments – I mention this as the voting records may appear confusing.
Key amendments we will be defending
Whilst we expect Tory MPs to try to vote to get rid of these amendments, we will be trying to keep them on the Bill, by voting against the Government’s motions to remove them. These amendments include various technical measures and the following:
Refugee Family Reunion Rights. My friend and colleague, the Labour peer Lord Alf Dubs, championed retaining this EU provision when the Bill was in the Lords. It makes it easier for refugees to be reunited with their families.
Protecting employment, consumer and environmental protections from EU law. Without this amendment, the Government will find it easier to strip out these laws in a ‘race to the bottom’, slashing protections for short-term gain.
Enshrining EU Environmental principles into UK law and establishing an enforcement body. Most UK environmental legislation, governing everything from farming practices to air quality to chemicals, has come from the EU. And it is enforced by the European Commission. As we leave the EU, there is a risk that this gap leads to a decline in standards.
Northern Ireland. Labour has ensured the Bill requires Ministers to adhere to the principles of the 1998 Belfast agreement and Northern Ireland Act, to protect the peace the island of Ireland now enjoys.
Limiting the powers of government ministers. The Government wrote sweeping powers into the Bill to change laws with little or no Parliamentary scrutiny. The Labour amendment aims to restrict these powers.
Our future relationship with the EU
There are various options for our future relationship with the EU. None of them are perfect, so we will need to find a compromise.
Remaining in a customs union. Labour peers secured an amendment on this. I’ll be voting to keep this as it will resolve many of these problems of the Irish border.
Access to the single market. I will also be voting for a more recent amendment tabled by Jeremy Corbyn, Keir Starmer and others. This aims to amend the Lords’ Amendment on the European Economic Area (EEA), described below. The new amendment would compel the Government to negotiate full access to the internal market of the EU, with shared institutions and regulations. I support this amendment as it presents an opportunity for a more ambitious and effective relationship with the EU. It also holds the government to account, reflecting Labour’s six tests, which are based on the Government’s earlier promises.
Remaining in the EEA. The Tories are yet to come up with a plan, almost two full years after the referendum vote. The Lords amendment on membership of the EEA aims to resolve this, instructing the Government to negotiate a relationship with the EU similar to that of Norway or Lichtenstein. This is generally a good option for the UK, but as it stands, we can’t be in both the EEA and a customs union, meaning that EEA membership does not solve the Irish border question, critical to maintaining peace. For example, there is currently a hard border between Sweden (in the EU) and Norway (in the EEA). A bespoke trade agreement would be a better solution, which is why I will be abstaining from voting on this amendment and voting for Labour’s amendment (see 'Access to the single market', above).
It is also important to point out here that there are currently two bills going through parliament that specifically deal with trade and customs. We will have further opportunities to shape our relationship with the EU, this is not he last chance we have.
A meaningful vote
The key vote this week is on whether to keep the Lords amendment giving Parliament a meaningful vote on the final exit deal.
Whether you voted to leave or remain, whatever your views on Europe, Parliament having a meaningful vote on the government's exit deal is a powerful idea we can all unite behind. Leave voters voted to ‘take back control’ and return it from Brussels to Westminster – yet the Tory government wants to tie us in to a Brexit deal without any Parliamentary scrutiny or any right to vote down an inadequate deal. This is the most important vote this week and where we are most likely to win.
What chance of success?
We are likely to lose most of these votes, despite the hung Parliament, as the Democratic Unionist Party will vote with the Tories. Even Tory rebels will not rebel on most amendments.
As Labour Whips, we have been speaking to as many MPs as possible and regularly counting how many MPs are likely to vote for or against, or abstain, on each possible motion this week.
There are two amendments on which we may achieve success: The customs union and ‘meaningful vote’. These amendments are the two we calculate are most likely to secure enough Tory rebels and leave-supporting Labour MPs to pass. Let me state again: a meaningful Parliamentary vote is hugely important and this amendment is winnable.
Uniting the country
Here are clear and highly significant differences between Tory Party and Labour: what we are fighting for on your behalf and the fact we are trying to unite the country. We are fighting to protect employment laws, environmental protections and consumer rights. We are also fighting to limit the Government powers to change the law without Parliamentary scrutiny, to recklessly gamble away our country’s economy without any plan or put forward a decent negotiating strategy.
Those are all extremely important aims. Even more importantly, Labour is the only party trying to unite the country. We are a deeply divided nation, we are currently a deeply divided nation. Most of you in Bristol West voted for remain and most of you would like to stay in as close as possible relationship with EU, preferably full membership, but failing that, part of a customs union and Single Market. I completely agree. But I also know that one in five of you voted for leave. Judging from my inbox and the doorknocking sessions my volunteers and I run each week in Bristol West, you also have not changed your minds.
People who voted to leave the EU for a variety of reasons, many of them legitimate. My colleagues in seats like Blaenau Gwent, for example, tell me that their constituents do not feel they share the prosperity or opportunities from membership of the EU. That has not changed.
I want to bring people together. Not just by following what is in my inbox, though that is important and I value you contacting me. Not by prioritising one group over another. But by genuinely listening to all views, researching all options, and coming to a judgement about how I can best represent your interests in Parliament.
That’s not easy, but it is the job you elected me to do, and I am determined to do it. It means being honest with you, even when it is hard – lots of you have said you want me to vote for the EEA amendment. As stated above, I cannot vote for it, as it stands, but will be voting for the replacement amendment from Keir Starmer, as I believe it will put us in a stronger position.
It should be possible to find a compromise which benefits everyone in some way. But only with a responsible, thoughtful government who are genuinely trying to bring people together.
That’s what I and the Labour Party are working towards. It’s messy, it involves a lot of discussion, debate and sometimes argument. We are trying to find ways through this incredibly difficult process which bring as many leave and remain supporters back together to a common purpose as a country.
I am proud of the fact that Bristol West people are so engaged. Keep on engaging with me. Let’s keep talking and most of all listening.
PS. Over the next few days I will be live blogging, tweeting and dong Facebook Live to keep you up to date with what is happening in Parliament and to give you a Whip’s eye view. You can follow that on: www.debbonaire.co.uk; @ThangamMP on Twitter and my Facebook page (Thangam Debbonaire MP for Bristol West).
This week the EU Withdrawal Bill returns from weeks of debate in the House of Lords. This blog sets out how I will be voting, and why, aiming to shine...
In Parliament, much of my current work focuses on fighting to protect my constituents from the damaging effects of Brexit.
I’m pleased to report that yesterday I won a small victory, when I met with Margot James, Minister for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, together with the Musicians’ Union. I have been pushing for this meeting for some time.
The Musicians’ Union, and individual performers, have repeatedly told me that they are worried they will not be able to tour in the EU, or easily move instruments and other equipment, without the proper agreements in place. This could be solved by creating a visa for people who need to tour. And it’s not just about British musicians – audiences also risk missing out, if musicians from elsewhere start cutting the UK from their tour plans. Musicians who have toured the US tell me how expensive touring can be when they need visas.
Creative industries contributed £92 billion to the UK in 2016, making it one of the fastest-growing sectors in the country. For Bristol, it would be a tragedy if leaving the EU harmed the creative scene which makes up a large part of the city’s vibrant economy and culture.
We were able to convince the Minister of the importance of these temporary visas. She agreed to speak to the Home Office about facilitating travel for performers. I was very pleased she made this commitment.
Protecting music venues and music lessons
In addition to Brexit, I asked the Minister to consider the need to protect small music venues in the face of pressure from property developers – a campaign I have taken up on behalf of Bristol’s unique and lively music scene. She agreed that this should be a priority and stated that she would look into this issue.
We also discussed the importance of improving schoolchildren’s access to musical instrument lessons. When children can access instrumental education, it may be sporadic and basic. The Minister agreed that high-quality music education is important for all children. As well as the intrinsic value of music, there are many other benefits. I will be speaking to the Treasury, making the case for more funding before the autumn Budget.
Can musicians continue to tour the EU after Brexit? My meeting with the Culture Minister and the Musicians’ Union
In Parliament, much of my current work focuses on fighting to protect my constituents from the damaging effects of Brexit. I’m pleased to report that yesterday I won a small...
The full extent of the Windrush scandal is slowly coming to light. On Saturday 28 April I held a public meeting for those affected, and the stories I heard were truly shocking.
Some people have been denied passports, missing out on family events including close relatives’ funerals. Others have lost jobs, been denied access to pensions, had problems with landlords or had problems accessing healthcare. I was particularly struck by the level of distress this is causing elderly people who have contributed to this country for most of their lives and should never have been put in this situation.
Around 30 people came to the event in my constituency of Bristol West, more than half of them with cases which I will be working to resolve with my caseworkers. This was the first such meeting was held by an MP with several Home Office officials in attendance, giving people advice to help people resolve their immigration issues as quickly as possible.
The good news is that for many of these people, it looks like the situation will be quickly resolved, although the promise of sorting it out within two weeks has already been broken.
I will continue to hold the Government to account in Westminster and help people resolve individual problems in my constituency. Part of this work is helping constituents find help – last week I gave several interviews on this, including BBC Radio Bristol, Ujima and the Bristol Post.
How to get help
If you are concerned that you, or a family member, may be affected, and you live in Bristol West, I can help resolve this situation as quickly as possible. Please get in touch on 0117 3790981 or email Thangam.email@example.com
If you need more information, latest information is available on the their website. You can also contact the Home Office directly, on their free helpline (0800 678 1925) or by email (firstname.lastname@example.org). The helpline is open Monday to Saturday 9am to 5pm, and Sunday 10am to 4pm.
The full extent of the Windrush scandal is slowly coming to light. On Saturday 28 April I held a public meeting for those affected, and the stories I heard were...
Nurses carry out extremely demanding and emotionally difficult work, often for modest wages. So it seems particularly unfair that some nurses may leave their training with tens of thousands of pounds of debt.
Last week I met a nurse living in Bristol who highlighted to me one of the ways the Government is worsening the crisis in the NHS and making life harder for nurses.
The Government has already replaced the NHS bursary for everyday living costs and fees for undergraduate students with loans, which has led to a dramatic drop in the number of people to training to be a nurse. In addition to this, the Government are now proposing to remove the bursary for post graduate students from this September.
My constituent Michael Lawton recently completed a post-graduate course in nursing. He received a bursary to cover the £9,000 fees. He continued to work part-time to cover his living costs, while completing an extremely demanding course, involving more than 2,500 hours of clinical practice.
Michael was very concerned that postgraduate students entering nursing from this September may be saddled with many tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt, up to a £100,000 in some cases. This is a crippling level of debt to repay on a nurse’s wage.
He told me, “without this bursary the post graduate route would not have been an option for me or my peers and sadly my dream of becoming a nurse would have remained just a dream. Even with the bursary, it was hard, but without it, doing training as a nurse would have been impossible.”
Postgraduate programmes attract students from a variety of backgrounds. The NHS needs nurses with a variety of skills other than nursing and the post graduate routes provide this.
And this is becoming ever more pressing. There are over 40,000 nursing vacancies currently within the United Kingdom. Figures published today show the number of nurses from EU countries leaving the UK has risen by 28% over the last year. Our exit from the EU and an aging population also look set to add to the staffing crisis. Removing this bursary will only worsen the situation.
I urge the government to reinstate bursaries for nurses’ training, and not remove the bursary for postgraduate. The good news is that some of my Labour colleagues are trying to fight this using a rarely-used mechanism known as ‘praying against’ regulations. I will be supporting this.
I believe we should be supporting nurses like Michael, who do an amazing job in very tough circumstances.
Nurses carry out extremely demanding and emotionally difficult work, often for modest wages. So it seems particularly unfair that some nurses may leave their training with tens of thousands of...
Bristol has been a crucible for music acts that are respected the world over: from Massive Attack to Portishead; from Roni Size & Reprazent to Kosheen. And key to that success are the live music venues – of all sizes – catering to all genres of music acting as a proving ground for talented and creative musicians to learn their trade and entertain generations of Bristolians. This in turn has made Bristol a destination for music fans, and our thriving nightlife attracts thousands of new people to the city every year.
But with this popularity comes challenges. As more people move to the city, there’s more pressure on housing – which can lead to music venues being made unviable due to the density of surrounding developments. Factor in rising business rates, and difficulties attracting funding and subsidies to support grassroots music, and music venues face a touch future in an area of rising costs and uncertain demand.
That’s why Kerry McCarthy MP and I convened a meeting today to bring together music venue owners in Bristol, campaigners looking to secure the future of the city’s night time economy, and key music industry bodies to discuss how we could help live music in Bristol to thrive. We were joined by owners of venues across Bristol and had Annie McGann from Save Bristol Nightlife, Mark Davyd from the Music Venue Trust, Paul Gray and Dave Webster from the Musicians Union, and Tom Kiehl from UK Music on our panel.
The debate we had was wide-ranging. We celebrated the fact the government have accepted the Agent of Change principle for planning (ensuring responsibility for soundproofing is placed on any developers who build homes near new properties). But it was acknowledged that government guidance has to make the responsibilities on planning authorities to uphold this principle unambiguous. It was also suggested that similar principles need to be applied in licensing and enforcement. We also heard many people testifying for the need for state funding for the arts to go to popular music venues and not just those who cater for classical audiences.
But one of the key themes that emerged from the discussion was how to ensure Bristol’s live music venues have a voice and representation in discussions surrounding the city’s evolution. Many venue owners commented that keeping their business afloat was more than a full-time effort, and there simply isn’t enough time in the day to keep on top of nearby planning applications, and attend meetings about Bristol’s future development plans. We identified the need for an independent representative who could be a voice for Bristol’s live music scene (in all its variety and diversity!) who could also inform venues of concerns or proposals that affect their future.
There's lots we can all do to support live music in Bristol. Like Save Bristol Nightlife on Facebook. Join your local resident's association and stand up for venues near you that you support. Let your local councillors know you value live music in our city. And make sure you visit and support the many venues we have across the city!
If you're a music venue owner in Bristol, make sure you contribute to the consultation on the National Planning Policy Framework to ensure that the Agent of Change principle is enshrined in government guidance. In particular question 35 of the consultation is your opportunity to comment on the government's proposals to incorporate the principle into planning guidelines for local authorities.
Kerry and I will also be following up on what we learned from the discussion. We will be contacting PRS to encourage them to develop a system for royalties and fees that works for performers, writers and music venues. We'll continue to support the Agent of Change bill in Parliament. We will apply parliamentary pressure to the government to encourage them to support music education, the rights of musicians and the future of music venues. And we will be talking to organisations that could fund a post to represent live music venues in the city, and we will work with the Music Venues Trust to set this up.
I extend my thanks to all the panellists who took the time to join us, and I especially pay tribute to the venue owners who made it for 10:30am for a Friday morning after clearing up after last night’s gigs!
Bristol has been a crucible for music acts that are respected the world over: from Massive Attack to Portishead; from Roni Size & Reprazent to Kosheen. And key to that...