Council tax up 4.99% - but services will be cut
Published on: 27 Feb 2018
Bristol City Council has set its 2018/19 budget which focuses on limiting the impact of necessary savings on frontline public services.
The council made drastic cuts to library services, parks, public toilet and school crossing patrol budgets in its first budget last year in an attempt to avoid a £108 million deficit by 2023. This year the authority needs to save £34 million, which will come from internal efficiencies including the council’s senior management restructure and backroom services.
The full council meeting on February 20 agreed a revenue budget of £355.8m with overall £1.2bn expenditure on council services and capital investment.
The council agreed an overall council tax increase of 4.99 per cent, which includes a two per cent levy ring fenced for essential adult social care services. For council tax payers, that works out at an overall rise of £7.61 per month for a Band D property.
A number of budget amendments were submitted this year, in an attempt to get the Labour-run authority to reconsider cuts proposed to key frontline services such as libraries, parks and adult social care. There has been much disappointment among many councillors that a proposal to save £50 million by cutting contingency funds was voted down.
Henleaze and Westbury Lib Dem Councillor Clare Campion-Smith said: “In my speech, I argued that the money we collect from Bristol residents and businesses is to be used for services, not squirreled away in a contingency fund.
“Instead of paying interest on borrowing, we should be using council tax money to invest in people and improve services.”
The Lib Dem group’s proposal was to put money back into vital frontline services by cutting contingency funds which it says is ‘doubled up’ in the council’s reserves. Support by all Lib Dem, Conservative and Green Councillors (bar one) was not enough to pass the amendment, which was voted against by all the Labour Party councillors.
The Conservative group proposed a saving of £1 million through a number of cuts to the council’s Brussels office, press officers and the City Poet. This was rejected by 56 votes against and 11 votes for, with one abstention.
Following the meeting Councillor Geoff Gollop (Henleaze and Westbury Conservative Party) said: “Balancing the council’s budget is always going to be a challenge, but it is disappointing that the public relations budget still goes up, when council services are being cut.
“It is frustrating that when the Mayor and his cabinet are presented with an alternative option to closing most of our libraries, they prefer to stick with cuts rather than consider the alternative.
“At the budget meeting, the Labour majority were presented with two proposals that could help maintain our parks and libraries and they rejected both. It is easy to blame central government for austerity, but it is harder to listen to alternative suggestions that could save services and still balance the books."
Having already made over £200m of savings since 2010, the council needs to save a further £108m by April 2023 due to projected reductions in government funding while balancing the needs of Bristol’s growing population and addressing social and economic inequality in the city.
Councillor Craig Cheney, Bristol city council’s Deputy Mayor and Cabinet Member for Finance, Governance and Performance said: “Despite the government continuing to force up council tax and hit local people for its own failings in dealing with the social care crisis, we have worked incredibly hard this year to limit its impact on Bristol. Instead we have focused on how the council does things, how we work with the city and how we can generate more income to spend on services, as well using our capital programme to foster inclusive economic growth.
“I am pleased full council has approved a budget that focuses on minimising the impact on essential frontline services. At the same time we have avoided the maximum council tax rise option so we can leave around £2 million in local people's’ pockets.”
The Mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees, also accepted several amendments to the budget proposals which were voted for at the meeting:
• Allocating £800,000 to create two small specialist children's’ homes to help the most vulnerable.
• Increase skip and scaffolding charges and directing the anticipated £100,000 raised to the ‘Local Crisis Prevention Fund’ which provides one-off emergency payments to people in desperate need.
• Allocating £25,000 specialist planning support to look at the impact of student housing on other city communities.