This is the full speech that I delivered at Budget Full Council on Tuesday 25 February 2020, prior to the Council’s budget for 2020/21 being passed.
I am proud to present our fourth budget to council today, one that is both ambitious and fiscally responsible.
No new cuts budget
This is no small achievement. Councils have lost 60p out of every £1 that the last Labour Government was spending on local government. We have faced unprecedented political turmoil. Since my election I have had five governments under three Prime Minsters with a churn of Ministers; Brexit; the chaos and callousness of welfare reform and the ongoing problems that accompany our being one of the most centralised countries in Europe.
These challenges sit alongside the cuts imposed on our public sector partners across health, schools and colleges and policing. They have come together as fronts to create a perfect storm of disinvestment in our country that has served to drive up the need for the services we are finding increasingly harder to deliver.
Michael Marmot’s follow up report to his 2010 fair society healthy lives was released today.
He says, “England has lost a decade”, and describes the damage to the nation’s health as “shocking”.
“If health has stopped improving, that means society has stopped improving”.
It is in the face of these challenges that we are delivering a no new cuts budget and we remain the only city that has been able to maintain so many of its public services.
I am pleased you have had the chance to go over the budget with your groups and members. Since before I was elected, I have heard councillors express a desire for an opportunity to engage in a better quality of politics in this chamber – moving away from the grandstanding toward grappling with the complexities and contradictions of a modern city. Where we not only say what we want but stand by the consequences of what we want.
This budget is our opportunity to engage in that higher quality debate.
Joe Biden once said “Don’t show tell me what you believe, show me your budget”.
It’s in the budget that we find out what’s important to you through your priorities because we see how you apply your inadequate and finite funds to growing and competing priorities.
I am happy you have had the opportunity to work through the £395m investment in Bristol outlined in this budget. I appreciate that you haven’t made major attempts to overhaul it which I take as a positive sign.
In fact Cllr Hopkins and his Liberal Democrat colleagues have submitted revenue amendments totalling £250,000 this year, Cllr Comley and her Green colleagues totalling £130,000 this year and Mark Weston and the Conservatives £256,000 this year.
Alone they represent less than 0.03% of the budget, together 0.08% leaving over 99% of our decisions untouched. Undoubtedly we will have differences, but I hope there will be some appetite for the tone of our discussion this evening to reflect the fact that we appear to agree on 99.92% of this budget.
As the final budget of this mayoral term, it’s appropriate to remember the scale of our journey.
When we came in to office, we discovered we had inherited an organisation in financial and governance chaos with a £32m hole in its budget. We commissioned former Chief Executive of the Audit Commission, Stephen Bundred, to undertake an independent review of exactly what we had on our hands.
It was a shocking report including his finding that:
“An entire annual budget – 2016/17 – approved on the basis of a “false” assumption that previously-agreed cuts had been fully carried out and savings delivered…and an assumption that a balanced outturn would probably be achieved can at best be described as artful.”
Mr Bundred concluded by saying:
“I am in no doubt that the sequence of events described in this report represents a collective failure of leadership within the Council for which several people, including elected politicians, bear responsibility”.
This only served to confirm our sense that Bristol City Council needed to be transformed. Local Government doesn’t have the reputation of having the most dynamic of organisations, but with a change of leadership, the support of unions and so many of our staff who’ve wanted to be an organisation performing at the top level, we changed direction.
Two years in we invited the Local Government Association to undertake a Peer Review Challenge. It was our opportunity to bring in objective, expert judgement on our performance. Their report said:
“Two years ago the council was facing a funding crisis and commissioned an external review to assess its root causes and make recommendations to address them. Two years on the council’s financial management and grip is stronger. Overall, BCC’s ‘green shoots’ of improvement are visible but there is much more to do in order to turn that potential into reality.”
It’s this recognised fiscal responsibility – taking the public’s money and treating it with respect – that means this administration has been able to deliver.
It’s one of the reasons we have been shortlisted for four national awards by the Local Government Chronicle, including Local Authority of the Year; One of the reasons we were European iCapital innovation award winners, winning €100,000, and one of the reasons our reputation with Homes England has been transformed and being seen as a city where business can be done.
It’s also why we can see the progress – you can’t walk around the city now without seeing so many cranes in the city, something the Bristol Post described as evidence of “major transformation”. Homes are being built, schools are being built, and for the first time in decades the people of Bristol seeing the city perusing the ambition and change the city needs.
It’s why we have been able to deliver on all my 2016 pledges:
- Delivering homes including social housing, in some of the most deprived neighbourhoods in the city. Meeting the stretching targets we set ourselves, with over 8000 homes being completed from 2016 to the end of this year. From a standing start, that’s some achievement and now we’ve committed £85 million to accelerate home building, £61 million for Goram Homes and freeing up a further £15.7 million to invest in building council homes.
- It’s how we have kept children’s centres open and delivering for families, with three and a half thousand meaningful experiences of work delivered in the last year alone.
- We have increased school places, with £25m already committed to a new school in Lockleaze and two more new schools in progress.
- We’ve put Bristol on course to be run entirely on clean energy by 2050 and to reach carbon neutrality by 2030. We launched the City Leap, a one billion pounds package of investment that will transform Bristol’s relationship with energy, the way we generate, distribute, store and use it.
- We’ve been able to invest in the Bristol Clean streets initiative including modern Big Belly Bins and the Big Tidy.
- And invest in Bristol’s culture offer including underwriting £48.8million for the redevelopment of Colston Hall and £1.5million to enable the modernisation of Bristol Old Vic and then to bring Channel 4 to the city.
And of course we’ve:
- Committed nearly £40 million pounds to be the only Core City to maintain a fully funded 100% council tax reduction scheme supporting over 35,000 of our most vulnerable households;
- Safeguarded our Adult social care services. Over 6,000 adults are supported by adult social care with over 2,000 of who are in care homes. Last year 65% of our net spending was on social care services and the responsible management of our finances has avoided a fate like Northampton County Council’s.
- Invested in Feeding Bristol to tackle child hunger. 5,000 children benefitted through the Healthy Holidays scheme last summer and 53,000 meals provided across the city
- Invested in the reinvention of city leadership through the City office and the One City Plan – something for which we were awarded 100, 000 euros as a finalist in the European I Capital awards.
This budget will:
Support older people to live independent dignified lives in their own homes for as long as possible, and transform adult social care services in order to ensure a more joined up and efficient service for people. We have invested in technology and our Home First service is returning people home from hospital sooner. We are paying Care workers the Living Wage and travel time, and having been awarded the status of a World Health Organisation’s Age Friendly City we will continue to work across housing, transport and health services to live up to that status.
This budget invests in a three year programme to improve outcomes for children, young people and families.
In addition to the £1.6 million funding we have already approved to support children with special educational needs, this budget will allocate a further £1.5 million to complement the £1.3 million identified in the Direct Support Grant, getting it right for children who have been failed.
The budget will keep all libraries open and will now modernise them, equipping them for the 21st century.
The challenges remain – as they do for all cities. And as yet we are getting no certainty from central government on the details of devolution or the nature of levelling up they have been talking about.
But we have a great team here and I want to thank Denise, Tian, Mike and the rest of the finance team, and all our officers for the hard work that’s gone into this budget. And I’ll steal a bit from Craig and thank the Scrutiny Task and Finish Group. And of course I thank the Bristol Labour Group and membership for all their contributions, my cabinet who have led on taking very difficult decisions and in particular Craig Cheney.