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.”