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To freeze council tax would require further service cuts totalling £1.5 million on top of the £35 million we are trying to find. The Mayor has therefore decided that the right balance is to propose increasing the Council Tax by 2%, below the rate of inflation, which is equivalent to 50 pence per average (Band D) household per week (£26.65 per year).
Bristol is growing at a faster rate than the average for England and Wales. Our population has grown 10% in the last 10 years to 428,100 - the third largest percentage increase amongst England's core or biggest cities. Bristol's growing population, particularly amongst younger age groups, contribute to the strength of our local economy but also place additional demand on the city's public services.
The Mayor's budget proposals are designed as far as possible to protect services relied on by the most vulnerable people in Bristol. Although the spending cuts in some areas like health and social care are sometimes large, they are part of a wider programme of reform that will also lead to a better service which better correspond to people's expectations. For example, there will be more investment in supporting older people to stay independent in their own homes, or to move to a growing number of Extra Care housing schemes where they can have their own flat with care on site, instead of having to move into a residential care home. This will allow people more dignity, choice and independence as they grow old , as well as saving money (because residential care home placements are expensive). This shift will also allow the council to further develop residential and nursing services for people with dementia.
Details of the council’s capital programme will be released on 10 January, which is likely to be in the range of £200 million, including new spending such as the provision of additional primary school places (£70m), energy efficient schemes, including reducing the City’s carbon footprint (£10m), and raising homes to the decent homes standard (£40m).
However, the Mayor is taking a careful look at some existing capital investment schemes to see whether they are still affordable or the right way forward in these ever-tougher economic times. For example, one of the budget proposals would save £350,000 a year by abandoning the previously-proposed new swimming pool in East Bristol (that is the cost of running it, and the cost of effectively paying the mortgage on the money that would be borrowed to build it).
£8.1 million of the 2013/14 budget proposals are through modernisation programmes that will make the way the council works more efficient. Through simplifying the way we operate we will eliminate duplication and wasted effort, making it easier for people to access the services they need. This will help us to run the council more efficiently and reduce our administration costs of delivering services to the public. One example of where we are doing this is the Finance Change Programme. We are replacing our old inefficient finance system with new modern technology, allowing us to streamline our processes and revise team structures to deliver £470k of savings in 13/14, contributing to the £1.45m which will be delivered in subsequent years. As an added benefit, we will have accurate and readily accessible information so that we can make better decisions to target and prioritise funding to areas that need it the most.
We are also cutting back on managerial posts reducing our administration costs in order to try to protect front-line services. For example, over the last 2 years, we have reduced staffing in our ICT function by 30% and maintained service levels.
Traditionally councils have each invented and operated their own systems, instead of sharing services, equipment, skills and software costs between them. We are moving steadily against this trend, to share more services with neighbouring councils or other parts of the public sector, so as to get better economies of scale and efficiencies. For example, we have a procurement partnership with Bath & NE Somerset Council which uses the scale of both organisations to secure better deals with suppliers.
Reconsidering which is the best organisation to provide some council services will sometimes mean asking the voluntary, community or private sector to run services and at other times will mean services will be provided directly by council staff, depending on which gives the best level and value of service in each case. The Mayor, in his proposals, believes these decisions need to be made on the basis of who is the best provider for each particular service. For example, Bristol is part of a national pilot of social work practices, in which we have established a new independent and professionally led organisation, VISTA, which provides social work services to about a third of the children in care in the city. Also, the recent completion of the Youth Links contracts has seen a range of new independent providers delivering youth services across the city.
On other occasions, savings may be found by bringing a service in-house, such as Legal Services where the use of external solicitors has been reduced as much as possible.
Councils charge people for some services they provide, and these are kept under careful review, to see if more money can reasonably be raised by increasing charges, whilst carefully taking into account the impact of such higher fees. For example, the budget proposals include an option to freeze the short-stay parking charge at Ashton Court at £1, but increase it for longer-stays, and to also introduce these parking charges at Blaise Estate and Oldbury Court.