Budget proposals reveal Lib Dems’ ‘skewed priorities’ for B&NES

The Liberal Democrats’ ‘skewed priorities’ will see some of the most vulnerable communities hit hard by the Budget proposals for the coming financial year.

At tonight’s (23 Feb) full Council meeting, the Lib Dem Administration voted in favour of the Budget proposals for 2021/22, while the Conservative Group voted against.

The Conservative Group’s main objections to the Budget are listed here:

  • Lack of support for vulnerable communities, residents and businesses
  • The inclusion of proposals that run contrary to the Council’s professed Green agenda
  • Absence of proposals to support economic recovery post-pandemic
  • Irresponsible financial management through use of cash reserves and absence of revenue-raising proposals
  • Skewed priorities by putting vanity projects above the interests of the local economy

The specific budget proposals to which the Conservatives objected, along with the reasons for their objection, are outlined here:

  • Absence of revenue-raising proposals: The current Administration has used more than £13m of reserves to plug the funding gap caused by the pandemic. But we object to plans not to pay the reserves back until 2024/25 at the earliest, leaving future Administrations to foot the bill. Also, the Budget doesn’t acknowledge the need for the Council to increase revenue post-pandemic to avoid using more reserves in future
  • Dissolution of Visit Bath: Tourism company Visit Bath is to be dissolved and a new, multi-authority company created called Visit West. At a time of unprecedented economic challenges, we should not be getting rid of the company responsible for managing and promoting tourism in Bath
  • £3.4m saving in Adults’ Services: We understand the need for efficiency savings. But during the middle of a public health crisis that has hit vulnerable people the hardest, the Administration has not been able to demonstrate to our satisfaction that people in need of social care services will not be negatively affected by the savings
  • Removal of a post within Children’s Centres: Again, the Administration has not been able to demonstrate to our satisfaction that this £43,000 saving will not negatively affect those who rely on Children’s Centres – some of whom are among our most vulnerable residents
  • Charges at recycling centres: Proposals, for the first time, to charge people to recycle hardcore materials such as rubble, tyres and plasterboard will lead to an increase in fly-tipping and, again, impact poorer communities
  • Removal of Pay & Display machines in car parks: The proposal is to remove P&D machines in car parks by 50%. The Administration has acknowledged that complaints could rise as a result of this policy, which suggests they are aware of the difficulty it could cause to residents, businesses and tourists. We believe the plan to remove the facility to pay by credit card at the remaining P&D machines and push all payments to MiPermit will disenfranchise people and cause a headache for residents and tourists
  • Restructure of senior management team: We have serious doubts around the proposal to save £300,000 by reorganising the Council’s senior management structure. We believe this may hamper the Council’s ability to continue to deliver for residents

In the coming financial year, Council Tax for B&NES residents will increase by 4.99%. For the average Band D property, this is an increase of £72 for the year. The Conservative opposition has reminded the Council that is a large sum of money, one that will hit poor households the hardest.

Another concern for the Conservative councillors was around the Administration’s priorities for B&NES. Number one on their Areas of Strategic Priority over the next two years is the creation of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, while supporting the economy to recover from the pandemic is fourth out of five.

Cllr Paul Myers, Leader of the Conservative Group on Bath and North East Somerset Council, said: “This Budget provides further evidence, if any were needed, that the Liberal Democrats in charge of the Council are completely out of touch with the community they serve.

“The only conclusion we can draw from this irresponsible Budget is that they are completely unaware that we are in the middle of one of the biggest public health and economic crises of our lifetimes, as there is not a single proposal that will help residents and businesses recover from the pandemic. Indeed, their proposals will only hamper our recovery.

“The Council Tax increase will hit the poorest the hardest and the savings in Adult’s Services and Children’s Services could come at the cost of affecting the services users themselves, some of whom are among the most vulnerable in our community.

“It is eminently clear – B&NES deserves better.”

Council should rethink ‘draconian’ anti-motoring plans following reduction in terror threat level

The Council should rethink its plans to ban vehicles from Bath city centre following the reduction in the UK’s terror threat level, councillors have said.

The Liberal Democrat administration on Bath and North East Somerset Council is proposing to restrict access to the city centre 24 hours a day, seven days-a-week for 365 days a year. They also want to erect new reinforced bollards and anti-terror street furniture at numerous places in the city centre.

These unprecedented and draconian steps will leave city centre residents unable to park their cars outside their properties, receive deliveries to their doors or be dropped off at their doorsteps by taxis late at night. The restrictions will also result in Blue Badge holders having to park in Council car parks rather than outside their homes.

The reason for these proposals, according to the administration, is to protect residents against terrorism.

At the time the proposals were drawn up, the UK’s terror threat level was rated ‘Severe’. But earlier this month, the UK Government downgraded the country’s terror threat level from ‘Severe’ to ‘Substantial’, meaning an attack is less likely.

Councillor Paul Myers, Leader of the Conservative Group on Bath and North East Somerset Council, said: “The Lib Dem administration’s plans to completely restrict traffic from the city centre were bad enough when they were first proposed. But now the UK’s terror threat level has been reduced, the Council should rethink its plans to ensure residents and businesses are not negatively impacted.

“With the UK economy facing a double-dip recession and the mammoth task of recovering from the COVID pandemic approaching, we should not be implementing measures that could seriously hamper businesses and the Bath economy.

“The Conservative Group is calling on the Liberal Democrats to stop using the threat of terrorism to further their anti-motoring agenda, and to respond to the reduction of the national terror threat level by rethinking their draconian proposals.”

Lib Dems make ‘catastrophic mistake’ by selling public building at knock-down price

The Liberal Democrat Administration has made a “catastrophic mistake” by agreeing a decision to sell a publicly owned building at nearly half a million pounds below market value.

A meeting of Bath and North East Somerset Council’s Scrutiny Panel was convened today to consider the Lib Dem Administration’s decision to dispose of a Council-owned property in Lower Weston – 117 Newbridge Hill – at £482,000 below its market price.

The property is a Victorian building previously used as offices by the Council’s Children’s Services Team and now deemed surplus to requirements.

On 18 January 2021, the decision was made by Cllr Richard Samuel, the Liberal Democrat Deputy Council Leader and Cabinet Member for Resources, to sell the Newbridge Hill property to the Council’s own housing development company, Aequus Construction Limited (ACL), without engaging in a competitive tender process, for £308,000 to allow the creation of six apartments.

But a recent independent valuation of the property put its price at £790,000, a staggering £482,000 above the price at which the Administration wishes to sell.

As a result, the Conservative Group on B&NES Council appealed the decision using a process known as ‘call-in’. A meeting of the Council’s Corporate Policy Development and Scrutiny Panel convened today (8 Feb) to hear objections to the decision.

But despite strong objections from the Conservative Group, and concerned members of the public, members of the Scrutiny Panel voted to allow the decision to go ahead.

Cllr Vic Pritchard, the Conservative councillor who led the call-in appeal and ward member for Chew Valley, said: “I am deeply disappointed that the Lib Dem Administration will now go ahead and implement this decision, which we believe is a catastrophic mistake.

“The Conservative Group brought this decision before the Scrutiny Panel because there is no justification whatsoever to dispose of the property at such an outrageously low price.

“Concerns about future use of the building simply must not take precedence over an immediate financial loss to the Council of nearly half a million pounds – a staggering sum of money.

“As councillors, we are only the temporary custodians of public money and public buildings. We must act with the utmost responsibility when taking decisions that affect them and this decision could set a very dangerous precedent for other public assets.”

The Scrutiny Panel’s vote to approve the decision, by five votes to four, means that, regrettably, it will now be implemented.

The Conservatives on the panel voted against the decision along with Independent councillors.

Picture caption: Google Maps

Liveable Neighbourhoods plan will leave parts of Bath unliveable, Tories claim

Far from improving life for local residents, radical plans for Liveable Neighbourhoods in Bath will leave parts of the city “unliveable”.

The Conservative councillors on Bath and North East Somerset Council have called on the Liberal Democrat Administration to re-think its proposals for Liveable Neighbourhoods.

Liveable Neighbourhoods is a policy that the Lib Dems claim will tackle the climate emergency by reducing reliance on cars.

A key part of the policy is delivering Low-Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs), groupings of predominantly residential streets that restrict through traffic.

Although supportive of the principle of LTNs, the opposition Conservative Group on B&NES Council has issued three main objections to the Lib Dems’ approach. They are:

  • The negative impact on people with mobility problems and businesses in Bath
  • The displacement of traffic to areas that are already congested
  • The unnecessary restriction on residents’ freedoms

The Conservative councillors pointed to concerns raised by residents that Bath’s topography would make the aims of the strategy to increase walking and cycling more challenging. The city’s hilly terrain makes the car often the most appropriate form of transport and restricting vehicles would have negative consequences for those residents unable to walk or cycle.

Echoing concerns raised by the Federation of Bath Residents’ Association, the Conservatives have pointed out that LTNs, rather than encouraging people out of their cars onto bicycles or walking, will simply displace traffic onto main roads that are already busy, and which are also residential.

In sending traffic on longer, more circuitous routes, and adding to congestion, pollution levels are likely to concentrate and increase.

And by making it much harder for people to commute into, and around, Bath, the current proposals could encourage businesses to move out of the city.

Such limits on movement are, the Conservatives say, an unnecessary and as yet unjustified restriction on residents’ liberties to drive around the place they call home. The Administration has not sufficiently demonstrated that this loss of freedom, which contributes to a liveable city, is a price worth paying.

Cllr Paul Myers, Leader of the Conservative Group on Bath and North East Somerset Council, said: “The Lib Dem Administration’s Unliveable Neighbourhoods plans could have serious impacts on residents and businesses in Bath.

“Although Low-Traffic Neighbourhoods have seen some success in other parts of the country, the overall picture nationally is mixed. There is no guarantee we will see similar successes in Bath, with its unique geography, and it’s clear that the consequences haven’t been properly considered.

“With the displacement of traffic, barriers to mobility for residents and businesses and resitrictions to personal freedom, we do not support the roll-out of these Unliveable Neighbourhoods.”

Lib Dems accused of using terrorism threat to further anti-motoring agenda

The Conservatives on Bath and North East Somerset Council have accused the ruling Liberal Democrats of using the threat of terrorism to justify forcing their anti-motoring agenda on the residents of Bath.

The Council’s Liberal Democrat Administration is currently consulting on proposals to restrict access to the city centre 24 hours a day, seven days-a-week for 365 days a year.

They also want to erect new reinforced bollards and anti-terror street furniture at numerous places in the city centre.

These unprecedented and draconian steps will leave city centre residents unable to park their cars outside their properties, receive deliveries to their doors or be dropped off at their doorsteps by taxis late at night.

The draconian restrictions will also result in Blue Badge holders having to park in Council car parks rather than outside their homes. Given a person is eligible for a Blue Badge if they cannot walk more than 50 metres, the Conservatives believe that, as a result, this policy will have a devastating impact on the lives of people with mobility issues.

Only in a window from 6pm to 10am is it being proposed that vehicles delivering and collecting from shops and businesses will be allowed to access the city centre. But the Conservatives say this time slot is far too small and will create unnecessary difficulties for businesses at what is already a tough trading time.

The Administration claims the measures are necessary to prevent terrorists using motor vehicles as weapons to target pedestrians at busy times. But the opposition Conservative Group has pointed out that terrorists could just as easily target people using motorcycles, bicycles or, quite simply, while on foot.

Questioning the timing of the proposals, the Conservatives have pointed out that although the UK terror threat level is currently ‘severe’, there have only been four instances since 2006 (when the threat levels were first published by MI5) where the threat level has been below ‘severe’. If these measures haven’t been necessary for the past 15 years, there is no reason to believe they are necessary now.

Councillor Paul Myers, Leader of the Conservative Group on Bath and North East Somerset Council, said: “The Conservatives on the Council, along with many residents, have serious concerns about these draconian proposals for our city centre.

“With the UK economy facing a double-dip recession and the mammoth task of recovering from the COVID pandemic approaching, we should not be implementing measures that could seriously hamper businesses and the Bath economy.

“The Liberal Democrats are using the terrorism threat to further their well-publicised anti-motoring agenda and have not properly considered the consequences of these proposals for residents and businesses.”