‘Corrective’ budget approved to set council on firmer financial foundations

Bristol City Council has approved its annual budget for the financial year 2017/18, setting a corrective course to get a firmer grip on its finances.

An overall net budget of £364.7m will provide funding for the cost of running day to day services, with another £213.5m set aside for its Capital Programme, which includes a range of major city projects including the purchasing, building, maintaining or replacement of council assets.

The council will also spend money through its Housing Revenue Account (funded by council tenant rent and fees), along with government grants for specific uses - such as the Public Health Grant (£33.3m) and Dedicated Schools Grant (£244.1m). These allow for further investment by the council in those areas and, along with other grants and the payment of benefits, mean the council will continue to invest over £1bn in the city and its citizens over the next year.

Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol said: “This is very much a corrective one-year budget. It’s about taking back control of the council’s finances and making some of the tough but necessary choices which have been avoided in the past. We all know there’s no realistic way to make over £100m of savings without some pain, but I think we’ve done a good job understanding the impact and thinking about how we minimise it.

“These are hard times but we are delivering on my seven key commitments to the city and focusing our limited resources on making Bristol a more equal and inclusive place where no-one is left behind. This is not easy work and doesn’t sit comfortably with making savings, but where there are tough choices to make we’ll continue to do the best we can.

“This will include lobbying the government for a fairer funding deal for local government, whilst also working much more widely across the city to enable everyone to play a part in public life. Bristol isn’t just about ‘the council’ and we’re supporting community groups, volunteers and partners to play bigger roles.”

The council agreed a 4.99% increase in Council Tax costing just over £1.40 a week for a Band D home, although in Bristol the majority of homes are below Band D and will be cheaper. The change in Council Tax is made up of a 1.99% increase to cover the rising costs and additional demand for services, with the further 3% dedicated to paying for adult social care. The move will bring in just over £9m extra for the council during the year, helping reduce the need for cuts in services. Even with this the council expects to have to save £39.4m during the year to balance its books, and the meeting approved a raft of 112 savings proposals worth £33.1m towards achieving this. The remaining £6.3m will come from a one-off use of its estimated Council Tax Collection Fund surplus, to fund ongoing annual spend.
 
Looking ahead at its budget gap over the next five years (including 2017/18), the council has identified just over £62m of savings towards a gap of £104m, leaving just over £40m still to find. The strategy for addressing this will be the focus of the Medium Term Financial Plan which will be developed during the spring and summer for approval later in the year.

Cllr Craig Cheney, Cabinet Member for Finance and Governance said: “Setting this budget has been a long process and we are grateful for everyone who has played a part by sharing their ideas and views. But the hard work starts now. We still need to find over £40m of savings and make very sure we implement the things we’ve just approved. Many of those need some detailed work and in those cases we’ll be talking to local people about how we implement those savings. This will be about working with people rather than just doing things to people.”

The main budget recommendations were approved by a majority vote of 35 For, 27 Against, with four abstentions, with no amendments made to the previously published proposals. Other recommendations were also carried by a variety of majority votes. The meeting was webcast live and is available to view in full at www.bristol.gov.uk/webcast .

Also at the meeting, Anna Klonowski was confirmed as the council’s new permanent Chief Executive. Ms Klonowski takes over from Interim Chief Executive with immediate effect. Anna, 51, was born in North London and now lives in Wiltshire and describes herself as “Anglo Polish working class”. She has been working with Bristol City Council since the start of 2016 to support focused work on devolution and finance before becoming the Interim Strategic Director of Resources in July 2016. Prior to her time with Bristol City Council she has worked in local government, health, metropolitan police and consultancy roles.

Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol continued: “I’m really pleased to be welcoming Anna in to the top job. She shares much of my vision for the council and the city. I’ve no doubt that she will help us make real progress, especially around strengthening our financial function and improving the culture of the council.”