Bristol’s balanced budget

My speech today at Budget Full Council, which begins from around 6:30 into the livestream.

I am delighted to bring yet another no cuts budget to council,

It underpins our aspirations for Bristol as we plan our recovery from Covid and the delivery over the medium to long term that will enable Bristol build back as a city of hope where nobody is left behind.

This is again a balanced budget.

Our general Fund net revenue budget outlines spending of £424 million on our key services. We also bring an ambitious capital programme to 2025 with a gross value of £900m – with a strategic partner now in place, we’re in an even stronger place to realise our capital ambitions for Bristol.

The principles that underpin what we do will remain: Inclusion and Sustainability

And we have put the UN Sustainable Development Goals at the heart of what we do.

I congratulate the finance team and Craig Cheney for their work. Covid, Brexit and Austerity have come together to incredible challenges in which circumstances have been created in which: 

demands for services risen, funding for councils has not kept pace with increasing demand, and council revenue has been undermined.

On top of this, it’s not only our front facing services that have been hit but  the back room capacity – our lawyers, project managers, accountants – has been hit hard as they have worked to manage all of this. 

I think on what we inherited, the £30m hole in the budget that Steve Bundred described as a the result of a: 

“sequence of events [that] represents a collective failure of leadership within the Council for which several people, including elected politicians, bear responsibility.”

And today we bring a £420m budget 99.5% of which is being accepted without change. There is no question that fiscal responsibility has been delivered.

I wanted to take the opportunity to make a few additional remarks.

During the debate about whether Bristol should take on the mayoral model, John Savage described this council as an old Victorian fairground machine. A complex mix of busy cogs, chains and bells that – for a while at least – is fascinating to look at.

It took a lot of building, and requires lots on maintenance. But it didn’t actually do anything.

In moving this budget, we are laying out the future of the city, and the role of this organisation in the city. We must remember what we are here for. We are here to deliver, to get things done.

I see a flurry of additional meetings being called – two extraordinary full council meetings, 4 call ins, extra HR committee which is more about using the internal processes to clog things up and make some noise that will win a headline than it is about securing delivery for Bristol.

It was the three time Conservative Prime minster Edward Stanley – the 14th Earl of Derby, who said “The duty of an Opposition is very simple – to oppose everything and propose nothing”.

That may have worked well for the aristocracy in the 19th century. But it won’t work for Bristol today. The City needs and deserves more from those elected to this chamber. 

That’s why we have focussed on delivery. This budget gets the basic right

In this budget we prioritise…

·         Council house rent freeze

·         The only city to have a Fully funded Council tax reduction scheme, supports over 25,000 households

·         £26m investment in SEN (Special Educational Needs) over four years,

·         £132m for housing delivery over five years

·         £75m for transport and highways. 

This budget builds on our record of delivery, including:


  • Building 9,000 new homes including new affordable homes;
  • Whith schemes ongoing across the city including Hengrove Park, Bonnington Walk, Zed Pods and Launchpad. Finishing touches to Ashton rise.
  • HMO regulation and Landlord licensing 


  • Nearly 12,000 work experiences through Bristol WORKS, including for young people from deprived areas and/or with SEN;
  • Secured £12m for Bottle Yard Studios expansion;
  • Made Bristol an accredited Living wage city – leading as a living wage employer ourselves.
  • Ban the Box, Stepping Up and now Kickstart programmes to drive diversity and inclusion

Education and Families

  • £26m Investment this month in special educational needs, amid a national crisis
  • Kept our children’s centres open and adopted a Children’s Charter
  • Creating more school places, with 87% getting their first choice primary place;
  • The Healthy Holidays campaign feeding Bristol’s kids during school holidays and free breakfast clubs with Feeding Bristol
  • Won World Health Organisation Age Friendly City status;


  • Secured the UK’s largest bio-gas bus order;
  • Delivering a net-zero council by 2025, reducing emissions by 9% in 2019
  • community wind turbines in Avonmouth
  • A Big Tidy to deep clean 700 streets last year and the best recycling rate in the country’s core cities;

When you take a minute to look at it, it is surprising how much has been achieved in 5 years. 

Now let’s remember the Real Challenge:

Keeping people safe from covid and limiting its opportunity to mutate

Economic recovery from the covid depression

The underlying drivers of inequality will be strengthened – those most marginal to the economy will be hit first and hardest and least well placed to benefit from the economic pick up. 

We have our ongoing housing crisis, we have a looming wave of mental health need and an urgent need to launch our educational recovery plan.

Only this morning Helen and I met with city partners to plan how we will overcome the March 31st funding cliff edge for people with No Recourse to Public Funds.

And we have to meet these challenges in the context of climate and ecological emergencies. That means minimising even eliminating the price the planet pays for us tackling these challenges for a city population predicted to grow by nearly £100,000 over the next 25 years. That takes a city redesign and rebuild that runs into the billions of pounds.

That’s where we need to remember that we will be at our most useful in seeing, defining, understanding, and directing our energies toward these challenges that Bristol and the world faces, rather toward small swipes that may or not win temporary – if superficial – headlines.

This budget is about getting the basics right. Putting us on a sure footing, supporting the city’s vulnerable and investing in our collective ambition for the future.

Estimates are that at this time 12 local authorities on the edge of financial collapse. Despite the circumstances we came into, we are not one of them.