The response to the so-called consultation launched by the mayor on changes to neighbourhood services has been negative, but fairly mooted. Whether this is because of the larger scale political disaster splaying out in the media, general weariness or a temporary lull while Bristolians absorb the reality of the upcoming disasters is yet to be seen.
The first thing to point out is that some of the laughable plans that had been announced, to make parks zero budget, and the cuts – or, rather, non-cuts – to street trees, have been held back for now. Even this administration seems to be embarrassed by them.
The second thing to mention is that what has been announced did not go through scrutiny first, much to the annoyance of councillors from all sides, which was much-voiced when they did eventually get to see the published consultation.
Having killed off local democracy through the abolition of the Neighbourhood Partnerships and the associated local grants, we are now told that the small amount of money from a levy on planning developments is also to be diverted. Legally, 15% of the planning levy must be made available locally, with the rest being spent by the Council on larger schemes.
Many councillors and community groups wanted this to be available at ward level, but this has pointedly been left out of the consultation. Local does not seem to mean local any more.
Public toilets, apart from some in parks, are all proposed to be closed. This is a severe blow to disabled residents, tourists and visitors – and, indeed, anyone caught short.
Our children will be in more danger travelling to and from school, due to the proposal to get rid of many school crossing patrols. Given that this is supposed to be a consultation, why have some already been given notice to leave their posts? Community facilities for vulnerable adults are also proposed to be cut – a hat-trick of the most vulnerable in our society.
It is, though, with the proposed cuts to libraries that there is likely to be the biggest revolt. Libraries in Bristol over recent years have already sustained a massive cut in budget. Some of the early cuts were genuine efficiency cuts, but many have seen the casual closure of branch libraries due to staff shortages over recent years.
There have been cuts in library budgets from many councils around the country, and a number of strategies have been developed to ensure that the much-needed service to the public is not hit badly. Civil servants came to Bristol not long ago to explain a number of the options and outlined successful examples of good practice, but the mayor chose not to include others in this conversation.
Needless to say, the better and more inventive options for our library services have been specifically excluded from the consultation, with only three equally appalling options offered. The mayor is resigned to closing the majority of our libraries and reducing the few left to skeleton hours.
All in all, it’s a classic divide-and-rule technique to set communities against neighbours, instead of a constructive approach. All ideas for bringing in much-needed services to libraries to make them full community hubs have also been ignored.
I have previously compared the mayor’s approach to that of the captain of the Titanic asking the passengers which direction he should charge the iceberg from. When you see the full story, you realise that he has a not only been wasting time and energy moving the deck chairs around, but has been sabotaging the lifeboats as well.
Please visit the consultation, but make sure you take full advantage of the comments box and do not meekly choose one disaster over another.
There will be a fight over this.
Gary Hopkins is a Liberal Democrat Councillor for the ward of Knowle.