At this week’s annual budget meeting, Full Council agreed our budget for 2018/19 and our Corporate Strategy for the next five years.
There is a recognition in the city of the challenge that Bristol City Council faces: government cuts and a reducing financial footprint in the face of increasing demand, and a sluggish national economy where the full benefits of the limited growth we do have are not shared by most people in the city.
It is important to understand the context we are in today. We’ve had to take on the consequences of the Tory and Lib-Dem coalition cuts to local authorities that began 2010 and were carried forward by the Tory government from 2015 and have been continued by the weak and wobbly Tory government since 2017.
Bristol City Council has had to make savings of around £233m as a result of less funding from central government since 2010. It has been left to the council and ultimately the people of Bristol to fund services. In its response to this year’s local government finance settlement, the Local Government Association said that by 2020 local government will have lost 75 pence out of every £1 of core central government funding that it had to spend in 2015.
These government cuts contrast with Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to return to municipal socialism, understanding the critical role local government plays in leading and shaping cities, and empowering and funding us to get the job done. For us in Bristol that job is growing a city of aspiration where no one is left behind.
Contrast this with Tory led Northamptonshire County Council which has posted its section 114 notice, an admission of the fact it couldn’t cope. We on the other hand have tabled a balanced budget, minimising impact on frontline services and a balanced budget for the next 4 years in this Medium-Term financial plan.
This is no small thing. Where would you point the public and private investors now, Bristol or Northamptonshire? Our financial competence puts us in a stronger position to be able to deliver our housing and transport plans for Bristol.
Alongside the fiscal responsibility and political leadership on the budget we are making sure that we protect the most vulnerable in society and streamline the council. We are making services more efficient. We’ve already saved over £800k in senior management costs and will save more as we are continuing the restructure.
This budget maintained all 22 of our Children’s Centres and kept the full council tax reduction scheme for the poorest in our city. Children’s Centres are critical to our public health commitment to get every child off to the best possible start in life – a policy priority critical to both social justice and the future financial viability of public services. And we’ll be building on the model with programmes around financial literacy, mental health and parenting skills.
But this budget isn’t just about managing services. It about managing Bristol City Council’s impact on the city and driving the aspiration we have for Bristol. In the next few months we will announce thousands of homes across Temple Quarter, Hengrove, Lockleaze and Southmead. In the Western Harbour we’ll announce homes and a new modernised road and bridge structure. We will announce the plans for the Bristol arena and start work. We have submitted our housing infrastructure bid and are confident in winning this bid following the success in securing millions of pounds from the Marginal Viability Fund for Lockleaze and Southmead, and the Land Release Fund for Filwood. We are on our way to reaching our manifesto commitment to build 2,000 homes a year, 800 of which are affordable, by 2020.
I must say I didn’t understand the Green party voting against the budget, when I had agreed to accept three of their four suggested amendments. Instead they voted with the Conservatives and Lib-Dems in a regressive alliance, against their own amendments.
I think they are in the right place on many issues and that we would be able to agree on joint approaches. But they miss opportunities for progressive coalitions because of their tendency to weaponise these issues in an attempt to prove moral superiority instead of using them as a rallying point to deliver for Bristol.
This means it is left to us to carry a budget which benefits the city and protects front line services. It is solely down to our Labour administration to bring the financial competence that the city deserves, defend the services and interventions people rely upon and continue to shape the Bristol as a more inclusive city.