Bristol’s Labour administration are proposing £33m in savings, many of which will result in painful local service cuts, vastly more than the £19m budget gap the Council faces. At the same time as making cuts to Council services and staffing, the administration is also increasing the Council’s reserves above the required level. While the Mayor has claimed to be protecting frontline services, detail in the budget report confirms that their proposals will impact on key services and vulnerable groups.
Greens were not included in developing the Council’s budget, despite reaching out to Labour with a willingness to work together. Therefore, the Green councillors are proposing budget amendments to reverse the most damaging cuts, as well as parking changes and investment in parks and streets to support local neighbourhoods.
The changes proposed by the Greens would prevent £1m of job cuts, reopen public toilets, and protect dedicated Trade Union time and free disabled parking bays. This will be paid for out of council reserves, as they are currently abnormally high, and from the Mayor’s Office and Council PR budgets.
Other proposals include:
The Green Party now have the largest group on Bristol City Council, so their votes could be critical at Tuesday’s Budget meeting. Labour alone do not have sufficient votes to pass the administration’s budget.
Green Group Leader Heather Mack said:
“Ultimately Bristol’s budget pressures are a result of decisions made by the Conservative Government to consistently underfund local services, combined with increased pressure from Adult Social Care. But Bristol’s Labour administration is making decisions which prioritise keeping money in the bank, whilst people are suffering. With many already struggling with a cost-of-living crisis, these cuts to essential services are cruel and unnecessary. In addition, not enough information has been provided about this budget to properly scrutinise it, with information on many of the proposed cuts worryingly vague.
“Labour did not meaningfully engage with us in creating the Council’s budget so despite limited options, Greens have sought to use budget amendments to find clever solutions to protect local services and promote environmental sustainability. I’m proud of our package of amendments which will stop some of the worst cuts and invest in our city’s parks and neighbourhoods. As the largest group, and official opposition on the Council we are keen to work with other parties to agree a budget that is good for everyone in the city.”
Further detail of Green budget proposals is below. The formal amendments with cost and spending can be found in the Council’s budget meeting papers here.
The Greens propose to temporarily take money from a reserve for a future flood defence construction project to spend on essential services over the next 2 years. This will have no impact on the council’s planned delivery of flood defences or its capacity to respond to flooding in an emergency as the money is earmarked only for spending on this specific project which is not due to start until 2026. It will be important that this money is replenished before it is needed, and this will be made possible by increasing the resilience of our budget by reducing some of the damaging and risky planned cuts. This money will be used to:
Greens are proposing drawing from the Adult Social Care Innovation fund to facilitate a 2-year pilot to develop flexible commissioning arrangements with providers, which could reduce long-term costs and provide better care.
Bristol’s social care budget pressures are largely driven from an increase in people under 65 with extensive care and support needs. Supporting more of these people to independence can provide a better service and at lower cost.
This pilot scheme would hire three new staff to support qualified Social Workers to manage and scrutinize flexible budgets and progress towards users’ goals.
Green Councillor Tim Wye worked on this proposal, which is part of the reserves amendment moved by Councillor Heather Mack. He said:
“As someone who has worked in the social care sector all my career, I am acutely aware of the multiple challenges it currently faces – from covid, to staff shortages, to rising costs. We face an uphill challenge but I hope that this amendment helps bring some positive change in the way we help people with some of the highest needs in our community”
Investing in better enforcement of illegal parking will make Bristol less congested and safer for everyone, including disabled people, pedestrians, cyclists and drivers. Across the city we see junctions and pedestrian crossings blocked by vehicles parked across dropped kerbs and obscuring visibility. These can cause accidents and even block emergency and service vehicles from getting through.
Money raised from parking revenue can be used to spend on sustainable transport schemes. Currently, 69 schools in Bristol are interested in ‘school streets’ schemes. These projects make it safer and easier for children to walk or cycle to school by making the area around school gates traffic free. However, the Council only has plans to deliver these at eight locations in the city over the current term. This amendment would increase the funding for school streets, allowing the Council to provide up to three more each year.
Green Councillor David Wilcox is proposing the amendment. He said:
“This amendment will make our streets safer and less congested. There has been a consistent lack of enforcement of double yellow lines and cycle lanes over the last decade. This is not a victimless crime, and drivers need to be compelled to park legally for benefit of all road users.”
Councillor Heather Mack said:
“Making it safer for children to walk and cycle to school is really important – the current generation of children will be the first in history to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents due to physical inactivity and obesity. We want to make roads safer and the air cleaner to give all children the best start in life.”
In 2018, 18 blocks of public toilets were closed in Bristol. This makes many areas of the city less accessible to the elderly and those with disabilities and underlying health issues. Greens propose redirecting funding from the Mayor’s office and the council’s PR budget to reopen toilets across the city. This could also fund new public toilets where needed.
Green Councillor Jenny Bartle is proposing the amendment. They said:
“For the elderly, pregnant, and disabled, provision of public toilets can be the difference between visiting an area or staying home. So I’m really glad we could introduce this amendment. There have been a lot of calls to reverse the cuts to public toilets – we believe it’s an important right to protect, and that increased provision is necessary to the wellbeing of people across the city.”
For years certain areas of Bristol have been asking for Residents’ Parking Schemes to be expanded in their streets to reduce parking chaos, but the Labour administration has refused to provide them, even where local surveys show significant support.
Unmanaged parking in busy parts of Bristol results in chaos, with residential streets used as car parks by commuters or those without enough space on their own streets. This results in corners blocked by extra vehicles, pavement parking, more dangerous junctions and delays for emergency and service vehicles.
This amendment will create a self-funding scheme to deliver new Residents’ Parking Schemes where over half of residents surveyed ask for it, to better control local parking.
Greens propose spending £4 million over four years to invest in parks and open spaces and neighbourhood street improvements, with two strategic funds aimed at improving city parks and local streets.
This amendment will reallocate some of the Council’s £12m+ unallocated ‘Strategic CIL’, a centrally managed funding pot which is supposed to help manage the impact of Bristol’s rising population and ever denser neighbourhoods.
Parks and open spaces and residential streets are both under greater pressures from rising populations and more local patterns of living, due in part to changing traffic patterns and new developments. Some of the work this amendment could fund might include:
Redland Councillor Martin Fodor is proposing the amendment. He said:
“After years of neglect and austerity our parks, open spaces and neighbourhood streets are suffering from a lack of investment. As the city grows we need to apply some of these un-spent strategic funds from developers to invest in tackling the growth and development of our neighbourhoods. This fund should provide a pot to prioritise the essential improvements needed for our streets and parks.”
The Council is planning to remove the first 30 minutes of free parking for visitors in RPS areas, which could impact local shops at the expense of large retailers with their own car parks like ASDA and Sainsbury’s.
Although Green councillors support sustainable travel and want to see more shopping done by public transport, foot and bicycle, they also recognise the value of local shops to communities and understand that some parking bays are important for the elderly or those with disabilities.
With the impact of the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis Greens think this is the wrong time for this cut, and this amendment will protect the 30 minutes free parking to help keep local businesses afloat.
Councillor Yassin Mohamud is proposing the amendment and said:
“Local businesses in Lawrence Hill have been struggling over the last two years while big businesses often have free parking. Now is not the right time to take this away when many people are struggling with the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis.”
The council is proposing halving funding for its twinning officer and trying to arrange for a ‘partner organisation’ to make up the shortfall. If this funding is not found this amendment will arrange for the One City Office budget to cover the cost of protecting this as a full-time role. The Council’s twinning officer works with a wide range of schools, civic partners and community groups to support cultural exchange between Bristol and cities abroad – something the Greens believe is more important than ever following Brexit.