At a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday 6 December, Green councillors, members of the public, and the Council’s largest union (UNISON) called on Bristol’s Labour administration to rethink “potentially hugely damaging” plans to remove the council’s strategic transport and city design teams.
The administration decided to start internal consultation on a decision to remove transport and city design teams, and pass some of the functions to the regional West of England Combined Authority (WECA).
In a statement to cabinet, Green Councillor Ed Plowden said Bristol would soon need the expertise, advice and guidance of the teams being removed “as Bristol heads towards Net Zero and transformational projects for the City such as Western Harbour and Temple Quarter”, and noted that instead of saving money, outsourcing the teams could actually increase costs for the Council and “hand the profit-making services straight to private consultancies”.
Also present outside the meeting were dozens of members from the Council’s largest union Unison, demonstrating against the planned cuts to Council jobs, which had not been presented to staff before being made public. Matthew Cockburn, a Unison Steward, submitted a statement to the meeting which called the proposal “ill-thought out” and “potentially hugely damaging to the city”. It said “the City Transport Service delivers essential services, manages large sums of money and is a well-run and effective service, so why on earth should it arbitrarily be decimated? This proposal makes no sense.”
The statement also noted that the Labour administration’s proposal “opens the door to privatisation of services” which could be more expensive; could end services provided to vulnerable groups such as cycle training for people with disabilities and school crossing patrols; and that “it would be extremely complex and probably counter-productive” to proceed as the transport team carries out many essential functions and “brings in large sums of money”.
Green Councillor David Wilcox said he was concerned the proposal to cut the important teams would “hobble” the city’s capacity to bring about important changes to how it functions. He added:
“The timing of this implementation is very suspect. Bristol City Council, when it transfers to the Committee System, will have no means of implementing its own transport strategy just at the time action is most needed to address climate change and implement radical changes to how people move around the city.”
There were many other statements submitted by members of the public, including one from former Labour Cabinet member for Transport Mhairi Threlfall, who noted the decision could expose the council to “significant financial liability”, higher costs and budget pressures, and the risk of not delivering the council’s statutory functions.
Her statement also pointed out that councils in regional authorities like Manchester, Liverpool, and Yorkshire “have kept and invested in their strategic and highways transport functions”, and stated it should be a decision for the future committee system.
Despite the concerns raised, the Mayor approved the decision at cabinet. Bristol’s Labour administration will now work up the specific proposals and consult affected staff as legally required, before bringing a final decision to a future cabinet meeting.
Speaking after the meeting, Councillor Plowden said:
“Regardless of your political affiliation, it’s absolutely vital the council retains control of essential services like transport and city design – I am deeply concerned that if the Labour administration proceeds with this they will be sabotaging the future of Bristol and setting the city back decades.”