The Liberal Democrat administration at Bath and North East Somerset Council has said it is taking “swift and decisive action” to get the local authority’s finances back on track.
B&NES Council has identified £53 million worth of coronavirus-related impacts on budgets, and due to “failed pledges” by the government to support local authorities, it is being “forced to grasp the nettle”.
A Financial Recovery Plan has now been published which identifies more than £22 million of changes which will be made to meet the projected shortfall in 2020/21.
Councillor Tim Ball (Lib Dem, Twerton) said: “The government response to coronavirus has been chaotic and confused.
“Policy announcements are made seemingly at random and new instructions have been arbitrarily handed down to Councils, with no consultation or clarity.
“We’ve been lobbying government consistently, but it seems their promises of financial support were completely hollow.
“There seems to be plenty of money to bail out billionaire businesses or repaint the PM’s vanity jet, but little consideration for the essential Council services on which residents rely.
“This means we have had to grasp the nettle and put in place emergency plans to plug the gap. Councils aren’t allowed an overdraft, so we have had to take action.
“B&NES is in a particularly challenging financial situation because of its reliance on income generated from retail and tourism, and the particular demographics of the area.
“It has taken an incredible amount of swift, hard work, over the last few weeks, to bring this plan together at the same time as dealing with the practical impacts of the pandemic.
“This prompt response will put us in a more stable position than other authorities, who are waiting till the autumn, and ensure we can plan for the changing economy in the future.
“Despite the urgency, we are making transparency a priority. We’ve been using new ways of working, such as online webinars, to keep the public informed, and the sign off for the plan will be completely open.
“The proposals have been published on the Council website and, before they are agreed, we’ve made time for an opposition-led watchdog panel to review them and for a public webinar.
“The scrutiny meeting, webinar and the Cabinet meeting will all be streamed live on YouTube for the public to view.
“We are taking swift and decisive action to stabilise Council finances, whilst ensuring that essential services and local priorities are protected. However, none of this would be necessary were it not for the government’s incompetence and broken promises.”
Bath MP Wera Hobhouse added: “Government needs to do more to support our Councils. Warm words are not enough.
“Councils have been on the front line of this crisis and it is our communities who will pay the price for Government’s failure.”
The Financial Recovery Plan will be discussed at a full virtual meeting of B&NES Council’s Cabinet on Thursday 2nd July.