Balancing the books.

The government’s financial squeeze on local authorities has seen major cost-cutting by B&NES – including now the threat to 300 jobs – but the Council is still needing to find ways of saving an additional 16 million pounds by 2020.

The Bath Guildhall

Local people are going to be asked for their views and suggestions in a series of meetings across the authority’s area.

The Council is assessing how it can save a further £16 million by 2020 – on top of the £27 million that is in the process of being saved, and the £15 million announced in the previous budget – while continuing to deliver essential services.  This will help to close a growing funding gap, due in part to the increasing demand and rising cost for adult and children social care.

In a presentation, going out to local area forums over the coming weeks, the Council says it will be setting out its priorities to put residents first; protecting and caring for its most vulnerable residents, nurturing people’s health, safety and well-being, and providing ways for everyone in the community to reach their full potential.

Cllr Charles Gerrish (Conservative, Keynsham North) Cabinet Member for Finance & Efficiency, said: “Despite already making significant savings and capitalising on opportunities to earn income, we will need to change the way that we work, identify what we can do differently less of, or stop, and how we can raise additional income. We are already working hard to maximise extra income and will be putting our case to Government to recognise the unprecedented challenges that we face.

Cllr Tim Warren (Conservative, Mendip), Leader of Council, said: “Almost three-quarters of all councils in England which deliver social care are struggling to balance their budgets.

“So far we’ve saved £27 million with minimal impact on frontline services, whilst still investing in key projects such as Bath Quays and the Somer Valley Enterprise Zone, and continuing to be regarded as a good authority in key areas by independent inspectors. For example, we have an outstanding fostering and adoption service, silver standard for homelessness services and some of the best schools in the South West.

“However, we have to prioritize what we do in the future while putting residents first and ensuring frontline services are protected as far as possible. Clearly, this will mean some very difficult choices. We see the local area forums as a key element to help us meet these challenges.

“I recognise that this will have an impact on staff, and these changes will be managed with care and attention.”

The Council estimates that in future it will become a smaller organisation as it changes the way it works, which will result in a reduction of around 300 full-time-equivalent (FTE) jobs in its 2,000 FTE-strong workforce (15%).

Pressures faced

The detailed presentation going out to local area forums says there are many reasons why the authority is under financial pressure and it forecasts that by the end of this year 80p in every £1 will be spent on social care.

An increasing number of people are living longer with complex conditions that require support which is expensive; more children and young adults are living with complex care and educational needs – some costing up to £250,000 per person – and there are 14 percent more children in Bath & North East Somerset Council’s care than last year.

The Council is paying a fair price for good quality care services; it is meeting the national living wage, it has more responsibility for children with special educational needs and disabilities, and it is helping more families struggling with low income. This all adds greater pressures onto the system in terms of social care and accommodation costs.

Cllr Gerrish added: “Our role as a universal provider is changing, so the way we work has to change. As part of this, we are aiming for better-integrated services with the NHS around adult care. And we have to ensure our statutory functions are maintained – even if they are delivered differently.

“We also need to be more creative in the way we help our local economy grow and we are working hard to find innovative ways to raise income and become more self-sufficient by investing in the local economy, bringing in new jobs and making the most of our commercial estate and heritage services to raise income.”

The Council wants to hear people’s views on how best the authority can meet the pressures on its budget, people are invited to one of the Council’s local area forums on:

  • 15th Nov – Freshford Village Memorial Hall, 6pm
  • 22nd Nov – The Kaposvar Room, Guildhall, Bath, 6pm
  • 27th Nov – Council Chamber, Guildhall, Bath, 6pm
  • 29th Nov – Midsomer Norton Town Hall (TBC), 6pm
  • 30th Nov – Community Space, Keynsham, 6:30pm
  • 4th Dec – Chew Valley School, Chew Magna, 6pm.

For your information:

Bath & North East Somerset Council says it has a good track record of managing to live within its means:

  • Reducing its estate and overheads (buildings and offices)
  • Proposing new ways to deliver services, rather than cutting them
  • Improving technology to streamline operations
  • Working with other authorities and CCG to be more efficient  in social care services
  • Supporting the new West of England Combined Authority which is bringing significant investment to the district
  • Finding innovative ways to increase income in our commercial estate, heritage services and property development company
  • Successfully bidding for grants.
  • The Council has secured investment of £10m into Keynsham Leisure Centre.
  • It has also secured investment of £10.8m into Bath Leisure Centre.
  • It is delivering against £70m of West of England investment in the Bath & Somer Valley Enterprise Zone which will deliver up to 9,000 local jobs including :

o    £36m to facilitate the delivery of Bath Quays and up to 20,000sqm of new modern office space

o    £10m on flood mitigation and enabling infrastructure for Bath Western Riverside which will deliver more than 2,000 new homes

o    £18.5m for new and expanded primary school provision

o    95% of families get their preferred primary school places

o    Secured more than £6m worth on investment from the West of England to improve adult skills and local infrastructure

o    Children’s Services rated as Good

o    Adoption Services are rated as Outstanding

o    Rehabilitation services have helped nine out of 10 older people leaving hospital to still be at home three months after discharge.