Business Breakfast –  Investing in our City!business breakfast

Talk By Andy Street on 21st November 2014

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First moved to Bristol back in 1980 – young graduate of 25! 25, I can’t believe it!
I discovered a city that was rather downtrodden if I’m honest:
  • Back then Bristol Docks had only been closed for 5 years, and lay derelict;
  • Broadmead shopping centre was a classic example of poor, ugly post-war planning (some would say it’s not much better now!);
  • And, the Tobacco Factory had only just stopped being... a Tobacco Factory!
34 years on it all seems so different!
  • Bristol is the 10th largest city in the UK, but the 3rd wealthiest.
  • We’ve seen economic growth and investment that other cities can only dream of!
  • Bristol’s urban area has more businesses and registers more patents per 10,000 people than any other city in the UK.
  • In economic output terms (Gross Value Added) Bristol has the highest performance per capita of any city in the UK.
  • Higher proportion of population with high-level qualifications than any other city.
  • Bristol is creating 10 times as many businesses per head than the rest of the UK.
  • In addition to being a major legal and financial centre it has a unique cluster of blue chip aerospace companies – BAE Systems, Airbus, GKN, Rolls Royce.
  • In the IT space, ‘Silicon Gorge’ is now second only to ‘Silicon Valley’.
  • Just last week the highly successful, Bristol University backed business incubator initiative, SETsquared, based down at Temple Meads, announced a doubling of investment over the past year to £60million. They support over 300 hi-tech, hi-growth potential start-ups.
  • Over the last 11 years SETsquared has developed over 1,000 hi-tech start-ups, generating around £1 billion of investment in the process. Now the best university business incubator (UBI) in Europe, and 4th best in the world.
  • The Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) is looking at bringing in a further £400 million of investment in the next 2 years.
  • Next year Bristol will have European Green Capital status, further investment!
  • Remarkable - and all of us here today should be rightly proud to play small part!

But alongside this amazing story there’s another side, which raises questions about the extent to which we’re seeing equitable investment in the city as a whole – investment that positively impacts every community, and every family?
In amongst all this amazing news about our economy, why is it that:
  • Over 25% of the children in our city live in poverty? Not just the more deprived communities – that’s the average across the city!
  • Nearly 50% of children in Lawrence Hill (just 1 km from Temple Quay!!) classed as living in poverty.
  • Nearly 20,000 people are accessing Foodbanks!
  • Over 14,000 people are on the Bristol CC waiting list for affordable homes, and last year we built less than 50 new homes against a target of 1,000?
  • Life expectancy is nearly 9 years less in the most deprived areas of Bristol compared to the least deprived (Henleaze 85 / Southmead 77).
  • I could go on – and I don’t raise these as political statements, merely facts.

As representatives of the business community in this great city, and also representatives of the church community I wonder to what extent there’s a tension between playing our part in building the city’s economy, but then being faced with a bible that challenges our heart with regard to equality and justice.

There’s much talk in our society about the relevance of faith, and Christianity in particular. I wonder whether the church community needs a new story – one that’s less about putting bums on seats, less about arguments about women bishops and appearing to condemn certain lifestyles, and more about reaching out to the less well off across our city – seeking to invest in a way that brings true transformation – economic, social and cultural, as well as spiritual?

As I’ve read my bible in recent years, verses that I thought I knew well have jumped off the page, hit me smack in the eye and, more importantly broken by heart. Verses in Isaiah, written 2,700 years ago, but that still seem so relevant to us today. Verses that speak of:
  • Loosening the chains of injustice.
  • Setting the oppressed free.
  • Sharing our food with the hungry.
  • Providing shelter and clothing for the needy.
  • Verses that speak of good news for the poor.
  • Binding up the broken hearted.
  • Freedom for the captives.
  • And verses that speak too of rebuilding, repairing, restoring and renewing – applying as much to families and communities as they do to bricks and mortar.

As members both of the business and church communities I believe this is a moment in time when we should be focusing on investment in our city in more ways than one. Yes, celebrate economic growth, but we can also invest in the broader fabric of society in ways that are more inclusive and reflect God’s heart of love for the city as a whole.
Many of you here today are already doing that, but there are new and emerging opportunities to increase the impact.

Historically supporting charity work was the main opportunity – and there remain many wonderful charities that continue to need our support both financially and professionally.
Increasingly though, the emergence of social enterprise / social business provides sustainable models for investing human and financial capital to create training, employment, housing, and community regeneration in ways that can be transformational – and we have some great examples in Bristol.
But we need to encourage and support more of this!

Over the last 3-4 years I’ve had a passion to see ways in which we could more effectively release some of the human capital and financial resource from the Christian community and to see it invested in supporting social enterprise across the city.

2 years ago I met Daniel Brewer of Resonance for the first time – a committed Christian, and someone who has a shared passion for creating a context in Bristol for starting the process of dismantling poverty:
  • Creating jobs for the marginalised.
  • Reducing debt and reliance on pay-day loans and providing access to affordable finance.
  • Improving health and wellbeing.
  • Providing access to decent, affordable accommodation.
  • Rehabilitating and supporting ex-offenders.
  • Addressing the needs of those with life controlling addictions.
  • Raising the aspirations of those with little hope for the future.

Funnily enough – aligning pretty much with the issues that Isaiah talked about 2,700 years ago, and issues that were central to the mandate and mission of Jesus!
2 years on, and following some excellent work by Resonance in reviewing the social enterprise landscape across the city, and recently arranging a couple of pilot scale investments in two local social enterprises, Resonance are about to launch a social investment fund allowing investors to benefit from Social Investment Tax Relief (SITR).
This will allow social enterprises to access affordable investment, and individual investors to secure an attractive internal rate of return.
And not only a financial return, but also a social return, and what I would call a ‘Kingdom return’ – using investment to bring God’s heart of love to a needy world.
The fund will emerge over the next few months, so watch this space. If you want to know more Daniel is here today and I’m sure would be more than happy to talk with you.

In many ways this should be a ‘no-brainer’ – although we’re not just talking about finance. Resonance are also looking for human capital - professionals with business experience and acumen to mentor and perhaps take up non-executive roles on the boards of social enterprises. The opportunity exists to make a real difference, and I’d encourage you to look at it prayerfully.

Be aware too, that there are other investment opportunities emerging in Bristol – the Bristol Bond, led by Ed Rowberry, along with a Local Investment Fund, and opportunities where these funds can co-invest alongside the Resonance SITR fund – all very exciting!
And social investment brings wider economic benefits to the city, and indeed the nation:
  • For every disadvantaged young person given training and employment –potential is realised, they’re taken out of the benefit system, and then in a position to earn money and contribute to the local economy.
  • For every homeless person provided with accommodation – the burden on the healthcare system is reduced, benefits are reduced, and the context created to secure employment and contribute to the economy rather be a drain on it.
  • For every ex-offender given training and a job – re-offending is reduced, costs of incarceration are reduced, taken out of the benefit system, and earning.
  • Example – Bristol Together: over 3 years, 60 18-24 years old guys, only 2 have reoffended (3%). Normal rate is 60%, at an average of £37,000 per annum in prison. Potential savings to public purse in 3 years of £4million. Property sold £4million!!

Probably gone on too long, and please forgive me!
In closing, we should all celebrate the remarkable transformation that we’ve seen in our city in recent years, and I’m sure we’re all encouraged by the expectation of more.
But let’s also recognise the opportunity for there to be investment which addresses some of the wider needs of the city, and that contributes to the overall wellbeing of communities, families and individuals from all parts of Bristol – and that reflects Kingdom principles.

Let me leave you with one last thought:

Mother Teresa said this, ‘The poor come to all of us in many forms. Let us be sure that we never turn our backs on them, wherever we may find them. For when we turn our backs on the poor, we turn them on Jesus Christ.’