Crime and communities in the spotlight in Bristol’s “City Conversation”

by Amanda Ramsay

Thursday night was the crime and communities’ roundtable, the fifth in a series of Marvin Rees’ “City Conversations” which will inform his mayoral manifesto.

Past events have been chaired by shadow ministers such as Stephen Twigg and Hilary Benn with Thursday night’s event featuring Bob Ashford, Labour’s candidate to be the first police and crime commissioner for Avon and Somerset, as co-host.

The focus on Thursday was on how Bristol can build stronger communities to prevent and tackle crime and reoffending.

Attended by youth workers, councillors, crime enforcement representatives and people from victim support groups, community and pressure groups, Rees was clear about his intentions to the audience:

“It’s critical that we get people from across the city working better together.

We must always remember, it’s the most vulnerable who will pay the heaviest price if we don’t get this right. It costs us all of course, but it’s the most vulnerable who pay the most.”

Like or loathe the idea of elected police and crime commissioners they are coming soon, with the poll due on 15th November. Labour need to secure these pivotal roles to protect policing and the public from the type of populist button-pressing right wingers that have emerged in similar US elections. Who knows where that may take British policing?

PCC candidate Bob Ashford said:

“Last night’s discussion confirmed the need for a twin-track approach to tackling crime and anti-social behaviour. Tough and effective action on those whose behaviour can bring misery to the lives of individuals and communities and early intervention in schools and families, to prevent the development of hate crimes, domestic violence and the root causes of offending.”

One Marvin enthusiast, Ben Mitchell, who was at the meeting told me today:

“Marvin understands a holistic approach is vital to address some of the city’s problems. Issues such as crime feed in to other areas, such as education and housing. Engaging with and listening to the concerns of a variety of organisations in Bristol means he is well placed to see what his priorities should be from the moment he takes office.

There is no substitute for face-to-face meetings with people who devote their time to addressing particular problems that the city faces.

From the probation worker, to the housing officer, to those working with the elderly, the City Conversations have allowed politicians to sit back and hear from people with an excellent understanding of the city and the challenges that need to be met.”

Councillor Helen Holland, former Council Leader and short-listed mayoral candidate, was also there. Holland said:

“A four year term will give more stability than Bristol has had for many years, but Marvin is realistic that four years is not long enough to deliver all of the changes that we need to make Bristol the city it should be, for all communities, so keeping those doors open will be key to a successful mayoralty.”

Having just selected their prospective parliamentary candidate for Bristol West, Labour’s PPC Thangam Debonnaire, was there to share her experience of working with victims and perpetrators of violence against women and girls.

Debonnaire said:

“I applaud Marvin for bringing together experts to look carefully at what Bristol is doing well and what we can do to improve. It’s clear to me, after over 20 years helping to reduce violence against women and domestic violence across the UK, that everyone is affected by crime.

Violence against women and girls alone costs Bristol over £80 million each year which is why our last Labour government took such a strong stand and made big improvements.  Prevention and strong responses are essential if we are to reduce the financial as well as the massive human costs of crime.”

Ashford added:

“There was a strong consensus to recognise the impact of low level crime and anti-social behaviour, especially on older people; and the need for effective community based schemes to work with the victims of crimes. Keep Bristol safe was a recurrent message.”

Campaign mode is very much the order of the day for Labour right now and with listening being such an important part of politics, that’s just what Rees and Ashford are doing lots of. Watch this space.

Amanda Ramsay is vice-chair of Pragmatic Radicalism, a former councillor and development officer of Bristol South Labour party

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