13 Oct 2016

Finance and Corporate Services

City-wide consultation on Bristol’s future begins

One of Bristol’s biggest ever consultations is underway as Bristol City Council presents its five-year plan for the city, including possible solutions to a budget gap of at least £92m from April 2017 – March 2022.

Mayor Marvin Rees and his Cabinet are aiming to include the whole city in planning for the future, balancing the books and coming up with new ways for the city to work. Today they have released a draft five-year Corporate Strategy which sets out what the council will do, how it will do it and what its financial future looks like.

The plan sets out a vision for a city:
  • In which everyone benefits from the city’s success and no-one is left behind
  • Where people have access to decent jobs and affordable homes
  • In which people can get around and services and opportunity are accessible
  • Where life chances are not determined by wealth and background
  • That leads on tackling climate change and the damaging impact of air pollution
  • Which is easier to get around and has improved public transport

It also includes details of how Bristol could cope with the huge budgetary challenge facing the council and many of its partners. In keeping with most councils and public sector organisations around the country, this is caused by anticipated increases in demand for council services. In Bristol this is expected to cost around £138m more over the next five years. It is made worse by the fact that Bristol has had to save over £170m in the past six years of government cuts.

The increasing demand means more people need services such as schools, social care and transport. The growing cost of adult social care, the result of people living longer whilst having chronic illnesses or otherwise needing support, is a major factor, as is the growth in population of children.

In response the council is dramatically rethinking its role in the city, anticipating less direct provision of services and a bigger role in helping others – including community and voluntary groups, businesses and citizens – get things done. It is likely to mean more joining up of services around the city, involving citizens and organisations in running all or part of some public services.

Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol said: “In launching this strategy I am really conflicted. On one hand it sets out an ambitious vision for a more equal and inclusive city, including many ways to make life better. On the other this has to be done in the context of a mountainous budget challenge.

“Whilst demand for services is the main thing creating this pressure, I am disappointed and angry at our starting position. I have inherited a very difficult budget position this year which limits the choices we’re left with for the future. On top of this, in the past six years the council has saved around £170m due largely to cuts in government grant as a result of the false-economy of austerity.

“Local government is changing. We will protect critical services, tackle inequality and still help Bristol and its people to flourish. But we will not and cannot do it all or provide everything we once did. The conversation we’re starting today is about new ways to provide services, including more roles for our partners, community groups and volunteers in services you might traditionally associate with the council. Our focus now will be on convening people around the city’s priorities and helping others to get things done.

“With this in mind, it is essential people come to this consultation with ideas and willingness to get involved. If people can’t or won’t do that, the options we’ll have left to balance the books will be much worse for the city and its communities. I hope we can have a mature conversation as a city about what the future looks like and what role everyone will play in it. I will listen to feedback and, working with my cabinet, take real account of it. Together we can make the best of a really challenging situation.”

The consultation will last for 12 weeks and full details are available online now at www.bristol.gov.uk/corpstrategy. People can comment on the Corporate Strategy, including the council’s general approach, detailed business plans, spending plans and over 40 possible ways to make savings. These and various back office measures are worth around £51 - £56m, so do not completely close the financial gap, leaving room for people’s further suggestions.

Over the next three months the Mayor, Cabinet and senior officers will take part in a wide range of events planned to capture people’s feedback and ideas. These will take place across the city, via the media and online, with more details to follow next week.

A special half-day event is also being arranged to hear directly from the community and voluntary sector, along with equalities groups. Other measures include business sector briefings, political meetings, trade union engagement and events for council staff. The consultation will also include a bespoke survey for city partners to provide ways in which they can join up services and contribute to shared priorities. They can also comment on any impacts the council’s proposals could have on their activities.

Cllr Craig Cheney, Cabinet Member for Finance and Governance added: “We want this consultation to reach every corner of the city. The financial challenge is big, but we will continue to be an organisation which spends over a billion pounds on services, major projects, schools, public health and Housing Benefit. We can’t do it all alone and it’s important to focus on where we’re going as much as the challenges in getting there. A big part of this will be how we enable other people and organisations to get things done in new ways.

“This process will ultimately set the tone for the next five years of public life in this city. It will affect day-to-day services accessed by Bristol people; major building and infrastructure projects and the costs for other big organisations such as the NHS and police. I’d urge everyone to take part – we still need more ideas to help bridge the gap so there’s a real challenge to the city to make practical suggestions and play an active role in society. There’s no use waiting until all the decisions are made before speaking up.”

The consultation is open until Thursday 5 January 2017 and the proposals could be changed based on the results. Final draft proposals will be presented to the council’s Cabinet on Tuesday 30 January 2017 for consideration and, if approved there, will move on to a meeting of Full Council on Tuesday 21 February 2017. The Corporate Strategy and annual budget for 2017/18 will require approval by Full Council.