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This week in Bristol: Surveillance of SEND parents sparks privacy fears

Your weekly digest also includes new details on plans for the Galleries redevelopment and insight into the council’s growing gender pay gap.

This Week in Bristol

In the news this week, leaked documents have revealed that Bristol City Council staff have been monitoring the social media accounts of parents of children with special educational needs. The surveillance operation has raised questions about privacy, how widespread the monitoring is, and how long it’s been going on for.

The documents show staff sending council chiefs detailed data on critical social media posts about poor quality special educational needs and disability (SEND) provision in the city. It appears staff have been trawling through personal photos of parents’ Facebook accounts to identify campaigners and SEND parents, and sharing its findings with education bosses.

“It’s deeply troubling that families of children and young people with SEND seem to be under surveillance by Bristol City Council,” Jen Smith, a mother of two children with SEND, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service. “Families in the city are constantly put through the wringer with their attempts to help their children access education.”

“To see what families are saying in their private lives being deliberately logged against them is horrifying,” she added. “It’s a threat against all of the city’s civil liberties and freedom to speak without fear of persecution.”

The local authority has been criticised for poor SEND provision in the city despite the best efforts of parents and campaigners. Parents took the council to the High Court in 2018 over a row about funding cuts, and in 2019 Ofsted inspectors published a damning report which found SEND pupils in Bristol subject to “disturbingly poor” care.

Responding to this week’s leak, a council spokesman claimed the surveillance was carried out following a request by the Bristol Parent Carer Forum, a local charity, which was allegedly investigating the conduct of some of its members. The forum has since flatly denied this.

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The Bristol round-up

? New details have been revealed for a huge redevelopment of the Galleries including a 28-storey apartment tower that would become Bristol’s tallest building. The Galleries shopping centre would be demolished under developers’ plan to use the site to build 450 new homes, as well as offices, student flats, a hotel, shops and cafes. The giant height of the new high rise will be two storeys taller than Castle Park View, another similar tower recently built overlooking the park from the east.

? Plans for hundreds of student flats have been approved for a site behind Temple Meads, despite flood risks. Developers now have planning permission to build 471 student apartments over 12 storeys on Avon Street. The development will link up to Bristol University’s new Temple Quarter campus. Permission was granted despite a committee hearing about the possible threat of flooding. 

? Bristol nightclub Lakota is facing a new threat as its licensing comes under review. Two years ago, Bristol City Council granted planning permission for developers to knock down the building in Stokes Croft and replace it with flats. And next week, the council will hear an application that could lead to the club’s premises licence being changed, suspended, or completely revoked if councillors think action is needed.

? The gender pay gap among Bristol City Council staff grew wider last year as men are paid on average more than women. In addition, people of colour are paid less on average than white staff, disabled workers are paid less than able-bodied staff, and LGBTQ+ workers are paid less than straight staff. 

? An advertising company has dismantled a bee garden outside Montpellier High School which was designed to protect local nature. The planter, which gardeners installed on a bus stop on 16 July, was removed by an ad firm that manages bus shelters two days later. The company said the bus shelter would not take the weight on its roof, but campaigners Bee The Change said the ad firm were “thoughtless”, and pointed to the decline of pollinator species in the UK.

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