Below is my speech to the budget Full Council meeting, given on the 26th February 2019.
THIS BUDGET IS ABOUT:
- Safeguarding our services
- Ensuring we retain Bristol control of the authority and its services rather than being subject to takeover by Government directed Whitehall bureaucrats
- Developing the council’s role as a catalyst for city action
- And strengthening the city’s reputation as a place attractive to the public and private sector investment we need
All this through bringing financial competence to the authority and by extension to the city.
The challenge that covers everything we do in city government remains government imposed austerity. We are now nine years into the era of austerity which was launched by the Conservative and Lib-Dem government of 2010.
When the Prime Minister claimed austerity was over, it was a recognition that the country has had enough. That the nation wanted something other than the decimation of the public sector, the further impoverishment of the poorest and most vulnerable, and the failure to invest in our country’s future. We haven’t seen any evidence to back up this claim.
And local government has suffered the biggest austerity cuts of the public sector. The Local Government Association calculate the funding gap will be £7.1bn by 2020, including £1.3bn needed to stabilise the care system. Council spending was 22% lower in 2018 than in 2010.
Let me just outline what this means: Our funding is decreased year on year by government cuts. Meanwhile, demand for children’s services and adult social care has continued to rise – for every £1 of council tax collected in 19/20 across the UK, as much as 56p could be spent on caring for the elderly, vulnerable adults and children. This figure is even higher in Bristol.
In Bristol this has meant £120m in savings.
We continue to grapple with a growing need with diminishing resources. This is in the face of a growing population, tackling the consequences of our outdated infrastructure offer, the need to build houses and the growing demand on public services being driven by failures of national government policy – particularly in the area of welfare reform. And we anticipate this will only worsen through the Brexit debacle.
WHAT WE HAVE ACHIEVED
It is testament to the work of this administration and particularly to Craig Cheney, ably supported by Finance Director Denise Murray and the finance team that we are presenting a budget with no new cuts. As I have said before, Craig does the boring very well and as a result of us bringing financial discipline to the council, we are now able to bring Labour values to the leadership of the city and deliver on our promises.
In 2018 opposition parties sought political popularity through voting blindly for a spend of up to £200 million with no awareness of the risk or evidence of impact. So I think it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on exactly who Bristol citizens can trust with their money.
It’s this Labour administration that has:
- Protected our Children centres – to give every child in Bristol the best possible start in life and started a city wide movement to protect the rights of children in the city through the Children’s Charter and the Adverse Childhood Early Experiences strategy.
- Brought the Better Lives programme to adult social care, empowering people to stay in their own homes and lead fulfilling lives for longer. And we’ve introduced the ethical care charter.
- We have kept all libraries open and are invigorating their future with community partnerships. This is an astonishing achievement when you hear that 130 public libraries closed in the UK in 2018.
- We are hitting our housing targets and accelerating delivery. This means we are tackling the housing crisis, including launching our own housing company and bringing through new methods of delivery including modular off site manufacture.
- We made the council a Living Wage employer and are pioneering efforts to become a Living Wage city. We signed and are rolling out the construction charter, became a Time to Change and Dying to Work employer. All of these achievements are underpinned by our financial stability.
- In the budget meeting this time last year we secured the future of the £40 million Council Tax Reduction Scheme, providing tax relief to our poorest citizens, including those hit by the appalling introduction of Universal Credit. We are of course the only Core City to be able to offer this scheme today and one of only a handful of councils anywhere in the UK. Many try to take the credit for this achievement but only the Labour group actually voted for it when it mattered and only this administration delivered it.
- And we have rallied the city to the One City Plan with city-wide priorities for 2019:
- Providing affordable childcare
- Tackling street and youth violence
- Ending period poverty
The One City Plan, along with the City Fund, is a testament to the credibility and inclusive nature of our leadership.
This Labour administration and the Labour group has really delivered on our promises. We have proved that we will base our decision on evidence in pursuit of the long term interests of the city rather than Facebook likes or twitter retweets. And one truth is more evident than all the others – amongst the political parties in Bristol, the people of Bristol can only trust this Labour administration with their money.
At the recent Labour LGA conference, Labour leaders from across the country asked Shadow Secretary of State, Andrew Gwynne to ensure the next labour government were as focussed on advantaging Labour led authorities as the conservatives have been in disadvantaging them.
The Government’s cuts to councils have seen Labour areas lose on average more than £500 per household since 2010, while in Conservative led areas, spending per household has fallen by just an average of £115. That’s less than a third of the impact of austerity… the is the definition of party before people.
Some Conservative areas like Surrey have even been given sweetheart deals by the Treasury while the Government has removed the weighting for deprivation from the settlement, making it so much harder for cities like Bristol.
Labour group leader Marg Hickman has written, setting out our opposition in the strongest terms. We are still waiting for other parties to step up for Bristol and do the same.
As the LGA Labour Group’s “100 More Innovations by Labour in Power” shows, we are delivering for our communities. It highlights how local Bristol Labour councillors and I have fought against austerity, convening the first ever joint meeting between the Core Cities and Metro Mayors, and rallying Bristol and lobbying Parliament for fair funding.
And this month, Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, held up Bristol as a prime example of how Labour councils are delivering for their residents. And, national attention for both the Children’s Charter and the Ethical Care Charter shows that we are standing up for everyone in Bristol, from cradle to grave. Our pioneering work and leadership is inspiring cities the world over.
From the 2016 Bundred report to the 2018 Local Government Association corporate peer review, it has been clear to those with expertise who came at the question with objectivity that we have turned this council around and put it on a journey toward success, based on the simple fact that we have got a grip.
And while I have lost hope in the existence of a Bristol political culture in which our opponents would acknowledge the scale of the achievement, it remains the fact that inheriting the £30 million of failed savings along with £120 million of government cuts, makes today’s no cuts budget an incredible achievement.
With strong financial management and prudent use of reserves, we have genuinely brought Municipal Socialism to Bristol.
MESSAGE TO OUR OPPONENTS
Of course, I will ask you all to support the budget tonight and to even look closely at some of the amendments. And I will appeal to our political opponents:
To my Conservative colleagues I say:
Please reach out to your Government. Lobby for fair funding for Bristol. To get us the finance we need. This year’s Comprehensive Spending Review key for local authorities – let’s come together in one voice about it.
There are party differences at the local level but, surely at some point we can come together and put advocating for the city ahead of protecting the reputation of the national party.
Argue the case for certainty around Brexit – not just what options the country faces but also how the Shared Prosperity Fund will work and should work: locally devolved and fully flexible.
To the Liberal Democrats I say:
Spend more time thinking how to get delivery rather than searching through the weeds of the council for minor weaknesses in big plans.
And to the Green Group I say:
It’s how you vote when it matters that counts, not what you post on social media.
Please focus more on making a genuine contribution and less on trying to claim credit for things.
Your hyped proposal to introduce a congestion charge is mistaken and seriously flawed. It will worsen poverty. And just in case you think you can only charge out-of-town residents, you cannot; I’m afraid it’s illegal. It’s not good enough for your second shot at a major policy.
And to the city I say:
We have done substantial modelling of clean air zones and will table our initial plans to improve air quality in the city in March, based on evidence. The evidence clearly shows a charging zone for individual cars will adversely and disproportionately impact on the most deprived communities. Air quality is a population health issue, that goes without saying. But so is poverty and we must take poverty seriously. As evidenced by in the British Academy’s 2014 report “If You Could Do One Thing”, 40% of health outcomes are determined by socio-economic factors which is the single biggest impact.
We must make our air cleaner without worsening poverty, which in itself is the most serious health risk.
We will take a leading role in tackling climate change. We are doing this at a global level through my co-chairing the Global Parliament of Mayors and membership of the Mayor’s Migration Council.
But that role must bring the city with us, not just point the finger. As University of Bristol Emeritus Director of the Cabot Institute and 30 year expert on the environment, Richard Pancost said in my guest blog this month:
‘in our fear of catastrophic climate change and in our urgency to declare a climate emergency, we are failing to build an inclusive movement’
As was demonstrated by 500 Bristol students last week,
‘climate change will affect children more than their parents, the young more than the old but will also impact on the poor, the vulnerable and the isolated the worst. Volatility of food production will impact most on those who already struggle to feed their family’.
And as Richard goes on to say,
‘if climate action is a question of social justice, then those marginalised groups must be part of the movement. They must set the agenda of that movement. They must lead the movement. And if they are not, those of us who claim the title ‘environmentalist’ cannot ask why they are not engaged, and instead must ask how we have failed’.
A movement that leaves whole communities behind will fail and the kick back against it could set it back decades. Please think through the kind of politics we make more possible when we entrench inequality and further deprive people of economic hope and opportunity. You can see it in the current crop of populist leaders – climate change denying, one dimensional, reactionary, opportunistic politics.
This is not – as some have simplistically argued in 240 character tweets – trading off money and jobs against the environment. Its city leadership working in a complicated and challenging world to deliver on all fronts.
A congestion charge is an example of people seeing the challenge of climate change through a prism of privilege.
This Labour administration will deliver carbon neutrality and clean air and tackle climate change in Bristol and we will do so alongside social justice and equality, with inclusive and sustainable growth.
THE FUTURE OF DELIVERY
And alongside that fundamental challenge, we will continue to deliver with financial projects that benefit the city:
A Bus deal, with public and private sector investment, underpinned by Bus prioritisation that will double journeys to work made by bus.
More than £17.5 million for sustainable transport projects, including the Cycle Ambition Fund, Go Ultra Low and bus shelter replacement.
We will continue toward the delivery of the Mass Transit system
£2 million to improve our Parks and Green spaces.
£4 million to build the third Household Waste Recycling and Reuse Centre at Hartcliffe Way. Several recent administrations failed to deliver it, and we are.
Major investment towards the £1 billion City Leap programme, changing the way we generate, store, distribute and use energy.
Investment of almost £68 million for new schools and buildings, more school places, and improving existing facilities – on top of almost £15 million for educational improvement.
£60 million for redevelopment and improvement works at the Colston Hall, Old Vic, St George’s, and Bottle-yard Studios.
We are investing in sports centres, tennis courts, bigger sports halls and swimming pools.
REGENERATION OF OUR CITY
£43 million towards the regeneration of Temple Meads, Engine Shed 2, Temple Square, Station Approach, Temple Quarter, and the Redcliffe Corridor.
£990,000 Port Resilience Fund for regeneration projects in Avonmouth & Lawrence Weston, and £200,000 to develop new office space at Filwood Green Business Park.
Almost £85 million for the Housing Delivery Programme, to accelerate new home building – particularly new affordable homes – plus a further £61 million for Goram Homes, Bristol City Council’s new housing company.
And underpinning all these successes are this budget and our mid-term financial plan and our financial competence.
For these reasons I have no hesitation in commending this budget to you.