It’s well established that local government across our country is facing a cost of operating crisis that is affecting all areas of local authority work. The systematic defunding of the local government sector by successive governments over thirteen years has left all councils facing increasing demand without the financing necessary to do all the things we used to do.
In February, we set another balanced budget for the seventh consecutive year of this administration, no easy feat considering the challenges. We have continued to protect all of Bristol’s libraries and children centres, prioritised support for low-income families by continuing to fully fund the Council Tax Reduction Scheme and Local Crisis Prevention Fund, and set aside the funding needed to continue our ambitious home building programme.
We continue to tackle the big issues facing our city head on, and reduce pressure on the frontline services that fellow Bristolians rely upon wherever we can — including thanks to the £1 million that we have saved by reducing the number of council directors.
With every year, however, the impact of delivering on our priorities becomes increasingly challenging. This year’s council budget was set against the backdrop of the national cost of living crisis, made worse by the national mini Budget, which has driven up the costs of goods, services, and energy. Coupled with rising demand for the services that we deliver and lower government funding than we need, the council’s budget gap over the coming five years was estimated to be over £30 million. This led us to set out a number of areas where we would look to save money and increase income whilst continuing to protect frontline services as much as possible.
Whilst this has meant that we have needed to review how services are delivered across all areas. Our plans also include over £11 million of actions to change the way the council operates, further improve efficiency, and deliver even greater value for money in how the council is run. A large part of these savings, nearly a quarter, will be achieved by further reducing the number of buildings used by our staff, following on from a January cabinet decision to sell six sites.
After many months of work to explore the various options to reduce office space without negatively impacting frontline services, we are now in a position to take the next steps and begin delivering these much needed work.
This approach will see us move out of a number of sites across Bristol. City Hall will continue to be the council’s main office with other buildings retained in the north, south, and east of our city to provide space for officers to work closely with people in those communities. These local offices of course sit alongside the network of libraries and children’s centres that we are proud to have protected across Bristol, which help connect residents with services.
Final decisions on which buildings will be retained are yet to be made, but we have made a commitment to keep the Citizen Service Point on Temple Street despite other council officers moving from this office space later this year.
As this project develops we will be in touch with people affected by any planned closures to let them know what changes are being delivered and where they can continue to access the services they need.