Budget plans agreed by Liberal Democrat-run Bath and North East Somerset Council have been slated by Conservative councillors for ‘hitting vulnerable residents hardest’.
During the Council’s budget-setting meeting last Tuesday, 19 February, Conservative councillors called on the authority to give greater priority to protecting services to vulnerable residents, raising concerns that planned budget cuts could harm Adult Social Care and Children’s Services. The Council’s budget plans include over £5 million of cuts to adult social care and children’s services over the next three years.
Conservatives criticised the Council for increasing the number of highly-paid staff and protecting the Council’s marketing budget whilst at the same time cutting funding for local services. Conservatives also argued that more could be done to make savings by sharing back-office services with neighbouring councils.
Following the meeting, Conservative Group Leader Cllr Francine Haeberling said:
“This budget does not have the protection of vulnerable residents at its heart, and includes potentially damaging cutbacks to social care in the years ahead. B&NES, like all councils, is facing a challenging financial circumstances, but that makes it all the more important for the Council to get its priorities right.
“Whilst the number of highly-paid senior managers is going up and the Council’s marketing budget remains intact, services residents rely upon such as libraries, social care, public toilets and children’s services are being cutback.
“We do not believe these are the right priorities for local residents, and so could not support the Liberal Democrats’ budget plans.”
At the meeting, Conservative calls for public consultations to take place before a final decision is taken on plans to close 13 public toilets and reduce the mobile library service were rejected. A bid by Conservative councillors to allow B&NES Discovery Card holders free access to the Victoria Art Gallery was also rejected, as was a move to invest an extra £1 million in highway maintenance.
Councillor Charles Gerrish, Conservative shadow spokesman for resources, added:
“We believe there remains much more the Council could do to make savings before cutting services so deeply. For instance, B&NES has so far made no real progress on making efficiencies by sharing more back-office services with other authorities, despite the Government offering £9 million to help councils reorganise services this way.
“We’re also concerned that the Council’s borrowing requirement has gone up significantly in the past couple of years, as this could create additional pressure on already tight finances.”