Bath and North East Somerset Council has approved Conservative budget plans to increase efficiency, protect frontline services and keep Council Tax as low as possible, although it has faced criticism from some councillors.
The council’s budget has been set amid the most challenging set of financial circumstances the authority has ever faced, with the council needing to find £43 million worth of savings over the next four years.
The savings identified in the Conservative budget plans include:
- £5.3 million has been achieved through increasing efficiency, including £2.2 million from restructuring and management savings;
- £3 million is being generated by increasing income through investments that produce a return for the taxpayer;
- £770,000 is being saved by providing services in new and innovative ways.
As a result of these savings, the 1.25% increase in Council Tax agreed by the Council is likely be among the lowest in the country, with most other councils expected to implement the full 1.99% rise allowed by Government on top of the new 2% Social Care precept.
Following the Council meeting, Conservative Leader Cllr Tim Warren, said: “As a result of the savings we have made, we have been able to protect the core front-line services residents value whilst keeping Council Tax as low as possible.
“We expect the Council Tax rise here in B&NES to be among the lowest in the country.
“By delivering more than £10 million worth of savings we have also been able to provide additional investment in priority areas such as transport, road resurfacing, job creation and affordable housing.”
Councillor Warren added: “It’s a shame that we heard a lot of unnecessary criticism from Labour and Liberal Democrat Councillors, mostly aimed at the Government, but nothing positive or constructive and no alternative proposals for how to balance the books whilst continuing to protect services.”
Some of the additional investments within the Conservative budget plans include:
- £6.6 million of Government funding to expand the number of Primary School places in the district.
- £3.2 million to support the delivery of new affordable housing schemes throughout the B&NES area.
- £1.8 million for transport improvement schemes and road safety measures.
- £500,000 to tackle potholes and improve the state of local roads, over and above the £3.6 million granted by Government.
- £150,000 to upgrade and improve children’s play areas throughout the district.
- £85,000 to tackle the area’s gull problems.
Cllr Charles Gerrish, the Council’s Cabinet Member for Finance & Efficiency, added: “Despite the unprecedented level of savings we’ve had to make in this budget we have been able to protect vital services such as street cleaning, public toilets, recycling, Children’s Centres, and front-line social care services.
“However, even with the savings identified this year, we still need to find a further £31 million to balance the books in the years ahead.
“This means there will need to be further work in the months ahead to identify these savings and ensure the Council remains on a sound financial footing.”
Finance spokesperson for the Lib Dems, Councillor Andy Furse (Kingsmead) commented: “We are unable to support this budget, which asks residents to pay more and get less.
“After a five year freeze, residents are being asked to pay 3.25% more Council Tax as well as increases to other precepts. In return, they can expect to see services cut in many departments, with more and more cuts to come.”
“The Conservatives have said they will deliver a balanced budget, but they cannot yet tell us exactly how this will be accomplished. Very little detail has been provided about some of the biggest savings the Conservatives are hoping to achieve.
“A large proportion of these rely on departmental reviews, which have not yet taken place, and business plans to boost income, which have not yet been developed. Others rely on accounting manipulations.”
“Without these details, Councillors have little chance to assess whether the targets are realistic or whether they will result in further, unacceptable cuts to public services.
“Some cuts which have already been announced do give cause for concern.”
“Large sums are being taken out of health budgets for example. These seem to be mainly in preventative services, such as helping smokers quit, and programmes such as support for sexual health and substance misusers. Sirona and Curo are expected to deliver yet more savings.”
“In 2015, the Lib Dems allocated an extra £2.2M for highways maintenance, over and above the government grant, to help address the backlog in repairs.
“The Conservatives have reduced this pothole fund by £1.7M and have not revealed how the £500,000 which remains will be allocated. Inevitably, fewer potholes will be filled, fewer footpaths resurfaced and fewer roads rebuilt.”
“This is also a disappointing budget for the arts and heritage, with cuts lined up for Arts Development and Events grants, the music service, and destination management.
“These will come on top of planned, significant increases to entry fees for Council-run museums such as the Roman Baths, leading to the inevitable question – are we at risk of overexploitation of the visitor economy?”
At yesterday evening’s meeting, which was webcast, the budget was approved with the following amendment:
- An additional £50,000 from the Government’s Transition Fund has been allocated to the welfare support scheme as a one-off measure to assist with increasing demand that may arise during the transition to universal credit over the coming year. This increases the value of the fund to £320,000.
To watch the webcast and see full details of the budget papers, visit http://www.bathnes.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/209416.