News / Politics

How each party in Bristol wants to spend council money

By adam postans, Tuesday Feb 18, 2020

On February 25, Bristol city councillors will agree the local authority’s budget, with much of the focus on how it will spend £395.7m of your money on day-to-day services over the next 12 months.

Mayor Marvin Rees has set out his plans, which were rubber-stamped by cabinet earlier this month.

They include a 3.99 per cent council tax rise, half of which will be ring-fenced to help pay for adult social care, and no new cuts.

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But each of the four political parties will be putting their own ideas forward for a vote at full council, and they are revealed in papers published ahead of next week’s meeting.

Here’s are the amendments tabled by Labour, the Conservatives, Lib Dems and the Greens.

The Labour group wants to increase rents for council tenants

Labour

Council tenants in Bristol could face a 2.7 per cent hike in rents from April despite Rees proposing a freeze in his 2020/21 budget.

The proposal comes in a surprise Labour amendment to Bristol City Council’s funding proposals, even though the party holds not only a majority in the chamber but the position of mayor too, and its own cabinet has already agreed the package.

If the idea wins the support of full council, the extra £3.25m raised would go towards building more council homes and repairing existing properties, as well as improvements to make them carbon neutral.

But an equalities impact assessment by officers says the increase of £2.38 per week, from £78.70 to £81.08, is “likely to have a disproportionately negative impact on the most socio-economically deprived communities in Bristol”.

It says women, disabled people, pensioners and black, Asian and minority ethnic communities (BAME) are “overrepresented as council tenants”.

Any rise has to be in line with the Government’s new “rent standard” for 2020, which has been set at inflation plus one per cent, currently 2.7 per cent.

A report to full council says the higher cost will be met by additional housing benefit and universal credit subsidy for between 40 per cent and 65 per cent of tenants.

When the rent increase is compounded over the next three decades, it would generate an additional £141m and also increase the amount of money the council could borrow on its housing revenue account (HRA), which will be considered as part of its 30-year business plan review later this year.

Labour’s amendment says: “In order to respond to inflationary pressures, deal with regulatory issues and to ensure we have the borrowing capacity for 900 new council homes, this council approves an inflationary rent increase in line with the Government rent policy.

“This will increase the five-year capital programme and enable the council to accelerate the programme of improvement works on the HRA stock and carbon neutrality.

“For 2020/21 the additional resource capacity created by the rent increase would enable additional homes to benefit from cyclical improvements and enable more new homes to be built over the next five years, bringing in additional rental income, which can then be used to maintain and develop stock including zero-carbon retrofitting.”

It is not clear why the proposal is an amendment and not part of the Labour mayor’s budget, which it contradicts.

Bristol Labour has been asked for a comment.

The Conservative group would cut funding on Bearpit security and put the money into enhancing parks

Conservatives

The Tories want to reverse parking charges at Blaise Castle and Oldbury Court and reduce the charge for collecting up to three bulky household items from £25 to £15.

To plug the respective £153,000 and £105,000 holes in the authority’s coffers, they would cut the costs of both the mayor’s office and the council’s corporate communications division by £100,000, and shut the Brussels office to save the remaining £58,000.

The Conservatives’ capital budget proposals include £2m to regenerate smaller shopping centres and the same amount improving road junctions along the A4018 and A38, paid for by £4m of largely unallocated developer contributions in the kitty, called Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) receipts.

A total of £300,000 would allow more out-of-hours access in branch libraries while an extra £137,000 would be spent enhancing parks, to be funded out of reserves and a reduction in security at the Bearpit.

Group leader Mark Weston said: “We are conscious that the draft budget already commits to finding nearly £8m in savings from council base budgets, so there is little room for manoeuvre without attempting to drastically reshape corporate priorities.

“Given the city’s current governing arrangements and composition, such a move would be only doomed to fail.

“Instead, we have sought to make some modest improvements in revenue by cutting policy and political spin, which are non-essential support, and putting these resources towards things that make a practical difference to people like removing charges to park in parks or cutting the cost of household bulky-waste collections.

“In capital spending, my group believes that unallocated development monies (CIL) should be utilised in regenerating our secondary shopping areas, upgrading road junctions at the A4018 and A38, while we have identified alternative funding to invest in the library service and enhancing our parks.

“These are significant sums which improve on Labour’s spending plans.”

The officers’ report says cuts to the communications team would reduce engagement with communities but the reversal of car parking charges may have a positive financial impact on disabled people, carers, pensioners, pregnant women and those with young children who are more likely to use a car to go to parks.

The Green group want to introduce a congestion charge for commuters

Greens

The Greens want to introduce a congestion charge for commuters from outside Bristol to generate more than £6m a year.

They would introduce a workplace parking levy, billing employers for providing private spaces for staff cars.

The amendment envisages energy-saving retrofitting to council homes, such as better insulation, and adding solar panels, starting with the 27 per cent of local authority-owned properties it says have an energy efficiency rating of grade D or worse, followed by the 18,000 grade C houses and flats.

A planned trial on solar panels and battery storage for council housing would also be scaled up.

The group would use £100,000 from reserves to train staff in the organisation to carry out the installation and maintenance work, alongside 12 new apprentices.

It wants to set aside £8.75m of CIL money over five years on cycling and walking infrastructure.

Greens say that by 2024/25, revenue from the congestion charge would pay for an extra £4m of local transport schemes including new bicycle lanes, low-traffic neighbourhood projects, pedestrian-only areas and changes to roads to speed up bus journey times, with the possibility of subsidising bus routes and cutting ticket costs.

Group leader Eleanor Combley said: “We have proposed actions to reduce our climate impact and tackle long-standing problems for Bristol.

“Measures to add solar panels and battery storage to council houses and improve their heat efficiency will lower people’s energy bills and carbon emissions, and generate green energy for Bristol, while creating much-needed employment.

“We’ve found funding to train up council workers with the skills the city’s going to need to install green technology like heat pumps.

“To address years of stagnation in Bristol’s transport, we’re allocating money to make walking and cycling improvements actually happen rather than leaving it to the lottery of grant applications.

“Finally, we’re proposing action to deal with our city’s interlinked problems of air pollution and traffic chaos.

“If accepted at the budget meeting, our amendments would help get Bristol moving again and take urgent action to address the climate crisis.”

Council officers say any proposal to amend employee roles would be subject to a management of change process.

Their report says further funding would be required to develop a business case for the workplace parking levy.

It says using £8.75m of CIL money over five years could potentially slow the building of council homes.

The officers add the full operating income of a congestion scheme is untested and that allocating £9.9m from the HRA reserve would impact the council’s planned capital programme.

The Lib Dem group want to introduce half-price bus travel for under-25s

Lib Dems

The Lib Dems would invest £10m creating 300 additional special school places up to 2024/25, while expanding the mentoring and support team for primary schools, under their plans to support the SEND action plan, required following the city council’s recent damning Ofsted inspection.

A youth bus travel card giving under-25s half-price travel would be introduced, along with a £100,000 grant fund to save essential routes facing the axe.

The party would spend £2m building East Bristol Pool and £1.25m over the next five years on parks and children’s play areas.

To pay for it, the Lib Dems say they have identified uncommitted council funds and will also dramatically reduce the costs of the mayor’s office by £400,000 and cut external communications by £150,000.

Group leader Gary Hopkins said: “Whether it is improving our bus network, delivering on our promise on the East Bristol Pool or mitigating the catastrophe in special educational needs, this budget amendment addresses the mayor’s deficiencies that his budget would continue to perpetuate.

“Rather than piling precious funds into his own office and for political advisers, we think the money should go to the children and youth here in our city to help them achieve a better future.”

Lib Dem finance spokesman and SEND campaigner Tim Kent said: “What has happened here in Bristol around special educational needs is shameful and as a council we need to do more to demonstrate our commitment to improve the outcomes of all children.

“Our budget amendment starts us down that path, to increase expertise, provision and delivery of additional special school places which are desperately needed.”

The council officers’ report says there is a risk that bus operators will be unwilling to support the youth discount card and so a review is required to assess what subsidy could be afforded.

It says the pot of cash to shore up threatened bus routes is likely to benefit BAME, disabled, LGBT and young people who are less satisfied with their local service.

The report says the cuts to external comms would “delete” the authority’s newsdesk team entirely, “severely impacting the council’s communications campaigns and meaning little or no response to media enquiries”.

It says the full scale of investment to deliver the swimming pool still needs to be determined as officers complete an outline business case for the council’s leisure facility investment strategy.

Funding for the party’s budget amendments would comprise £5.75m of currently unassigned CIL money, which the report says could have the effect of slowing down the building of new council homes, and £7.5m from the capital contingency fund – more than 40 per cent of the money set aside for emergencies.

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