12 Jan 2017

Finance and Corporate Services

City priorities can be delivered but more savings needed as council publishes more budget proposals

View the strategy and savings proposals at www.bristol.gov.uk/corpstrategy

New budget proposals and updates to its draft Corporate Strategy show that Bristol City Council will manage to fund top priorities for the city including the Mayor’s seven key commitments* and vital services relied on by tens of thousands of people despite a major budget challenge.

Following a three month consultation on its draft five-year plan, Bristol City Council expects to produce proposals for a balanced budget next year, taking account of widespread agreement about its top priorities and Mayoral vision. However, a challenging budget position means that many savings must still be made, with the council focusing on doing the essentials well. If plans are approved this will mean that the community or other partners will need to step in if some services are to continue.

Changes in government funding mean that the council is proposing an additional 1% Adult Social Care precept on Council Tax in order to fund critical care services to older and vulnerable adults. This means bills could go up by 4.99% (just over £6 per month for a Band D household), bringing in just over £9.1m next year.

The council needs to make permanent ongoing savings of over £40m from April 2017 – April 2018 and ensure sufficiency of its reserves, with its total required savings over the next five financial years now expected to be just over £100m.

With relatively few options available and its original draft proposals not completely closing the budget gap, the council has reviewed the feedback from the consultation and the impact of savings. However with the current financial position nearly all previously announced savings will go ahead if approved. New proposals have been incorporated and the total value of savings has increased from £51m to £64m.

The council has also changed the way it will make decisions on the proposals, and where appropriate giving some space to discuss with the city the details of exactly how the proposed savings would be made within the council’s approved cash limits. Instead of deciding on its entire five-year financial plan, the council now intends to set a detailed one-year budget with cash limits for its services and forward look. If approved, some proposals will need further public consultation about their implementation, with all of the issues considered by the Mayor and his Cabinet. Meanwhile the full five-year financial plan will be presented later in the year.

Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol said: “We want to set a legal, balanced budget. Having come in to office and turned over several rocks I feel like the council has – with the best intentions – been trying to avoid taking the bull by the horns for too long. To be brutally honest this means we have had more work to do and have come to budget setting relatively late, so even these proposals have risk in terms of making all the savings we need. Whatever happens we must focus on our top priorities and do fewer things ourselves, with partners, volunteers or community groups taking on other services they want to keep.

“We still plan to spend over a billion pounds on Bristol each year. We will improve the city’s housing situation, reduce congestion and tackle inequality whilst seeking more funding and local powers from the government. By working together with our city partners and encouraging everyone in society to do their bit, we can help make sure things are better than the options might initially look on paper.

“Nevertheless this is a really tough position to be in and we must make sure that how we move forward doesn’t have the biggest impacts in deprived areas or on those with the least opportunity. With that said I have to be honest and acknowledge that, try as we might, the very nature of council services mean that some of the people we would rather protect are going to be affected.”

A full report on the consultation and the new list of the council’s proposed savings are available now at www.bristol.gov.uk/corpstrategy and paper copies or other formats are available on request by calling 0117 922 2650. Several original proposals have been removed or reduced following consultation, including:

  • Implement a charge for some carers who receive support. (£50k)
  • Charge for advisory disabled bays and 'Keep Clear' markings (£34k)
  • Remove carer's companion concessionary bus passes (£400k)
  • Withdraw reimbursements to Community Transport operators for concessionary travel (195k)
  • Revise operating times for Concessionary Travel (£70k)
  • Reduce funding to Key Arts Providers by a greater amount (reduced by £320k)
  • Reducing museum opening hours (£200k)

Mayor Marvin Rees continued: “I’ve been listening carefully during the initial consultation and I understand that some of the savings ideas aren’t popular. But what’s also come across is that people are behind our overall strategy and many of the big ideas we published, with a strong vein of opinion which said ‘We don’t like the cuts but if you have to make them, work with us and let’s get on with it’.

“We are relying on significant reserves to make this year’s budget work and we cannot do that long-term as it just stores up bigger problems for the future. Because of this we have to keep proposing some unpopular ideas and some new ones which are also unpalatable. Whatever happens we’ll be putting a lot of time and energy in to the detail, working with the public, our staff, city partners, community groups and the voluntary sector to do things in the fairest ways we can.”

Councillor Craig Cheney, Cabinet Member for Finance added: “There has been a widespread and very mature acceptance among local people and partners that the financial reality is the financial reality. With less funding, a growing population and huge demands on life-and-limb services like taking care of the elderly, the vulnerable and our children, we simply cannot continue doing everything we’ve always done.

“Many other places made these hard decisions a long time ago. Bristol is being forced to catch up and if we don’t do it now we will lose any chance of making savings in a planned, controlled way which can take account of local needs.”

The council plans to start a new round of detailed consultation from late January about how it would implement some of the savings proposals if they are approved. Details will be announced at the time and are subject to the Mayor deciding at his Cabinet meeting (30 January) to make his recommendation to Full Council (21 February). The draft Corporate Strategy including savings proposals will also be presented to the council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee on 19 January.

*The Mayor’s seven key commitments are:
•    We will build 2,000 new homes – 800 affordable – a year by 2020
•    We will deliver work experience and apprenticeships for every young person
•    We will not impose future RPZs and will review existing schemes
•    We will protect children’s centre services
•    We will increase the number of school places and introduce a fair admissions process
•    We will put Bristol on course to be run entirely on clean energy by 2050 and introduce a safe, clean streets campaign
•    We will be a leading cultural city, making culture and sport accessible to all