The B&NES Budget that is about to be agreed tonight is a large one that our thriving democracy is compelled to debate.
In its 2016/17 proposal, Cabinet promises that its review, amongst other laudable aims, ‘considered spending across the Council to ensure efficiency savings and income generation opportunities are maximised’. Does the Budget achieve this?
In particular, £9.7m capital allocation to an East of Bath Park and Ride’ fulfills these laudable criteria.
The benefits would be close to zero; despite the opaque nature of BaNES finances, it appears that £200k or so that it would receive in franchise revenue would be eaten up by maintenance costs of the site.
It is doubtful whether 10-year government borrowing costs (a paltry 1.5% per annum) would even be covered.
What is more, the congestion and pollution (the positive externality) benefits of existing park and ride schemes are highly questionable; any gains for some areas result in losses at least as much elsewhere- for example lost bus services into Bath from West Wiltshire.
Whether or not this capital is borrowed (as outlined above), financed from existing cash flow, or from ‘capital receipts’ there is a huge opportunity cost.
From the existing cash flow would see spending on services down by over 10 times the £930K increase in council funding recently lauded by Ben Howlett as a boon to B&NES residents.
From capital receipts; these incur the sale of (potential) income earning assets. For instance, at current prices, £9.7m invested in secure homes for 100 families, would generate £1m in annual rent or Housing Benefit savings.
That £1m could then be spent with positive multiplier effects for the local economy: for instance the 45 full time adult care workers that could be afforded would help relieve bed blocking at the RUH.
The costs, both realised and potential, to this scheme are easily quantifiable, very large and very real for the taxpayers and families of BaNES.
If the Council proposes to build on ancient Green Belt land, it owes it to its electorate to prove that those costs will comfortably be outweighed by the benefits so that its scarce resources are fully utilised. As yet, it hasn’t.