Budget proposals focusing on sustainability, recovery from the pandemic and ensuring Council services are maintained, have been approved by B&NES Councillors. It confirms a combined 4.99% increase in council tax and the Adult Social Care precept.
Introducing the Lib Dem administration’s financial plans for the coming financial year, Councillor Richard Samuel reflected on the damage which has been caused by the pandemic, to individuals, to the country as a whole and to local government finances.
Councillor Samuel noted that B&NES Council has been particularly hard hit by the impact of lockdown on the visitor economy and other sources of income, and that this pressure is likely to continue. He also pointed to decisive action taken by the Lib Dem administration in summer 2020, which has put the Council in a stronger financial position. Striking an optimistic note, he said:
“It would have tempting for some to say: ‘these are tough times; forget saving the planet, let nature suffer a bit longer, put aside your transport plans, don’t build social housing just now’.
“This budget is not a collection of numbers it is an expression of our values and aspirations which we retain despite adversity.”
“We are clear that the existential threat that climate change poses must still be tackled by continuing to bear down on carbon emissions from vehicles and taking other carbon reduction measures.
“Our budget contains a range of measures to help our local economy recover with emphasis on our high streets, enterprise parks and of course the continuing work on Bath Quays. Our own commercial estate will spearhead this renewal work together with valued partners such as our two outstanding universities.
“We will continue to collaborate and secure funding from the West of England Combined Authority focusing on transport improvements, investment funding for local acquisition and support for our economic recovery plans.
“In addition to these initiatives I have made clear that it is essential to do as much as possible to cushion any financial impacts on our services for children and vulnerable adults. More money has been found for Children’s services reflecting current pressures and Adult funding is largely protected.”
Councillor Samuel also outlined plans to ensure the stability of Council finances going forwards, after “a truly dreadful year”.
Temporary use of reserves will cushion the impact of lost income and mean that savings, required to balance the books, will have the least possible impact on essential Council services. Reserves will be rebuilt by 2025 and a new £5m Covid reserve has been established for any future impacts from the pandemic.
A combined 4.99% increase in council tax and the Adult Social Care precept will avoid damaging cuts whilst supporting adult social care services, which have been under severe pressure. This is in line with neighbouring Councils and will still leave B&NES residents paying the third lowest unitary authority Council Tax in the South West. Additional funding has been made available for council tax support and a general welfare support fund aimed at the very poorest, who are struggling with everyday bills.
Councillor Samuel also highlighted some of the additional actions the Council has undertaken over the last 12 months. He said:
“During the pandemic the council has run the Wellbeing Hub, provided free school meals, distributed millions in business grants, kept the refuse and recycling service literally on the road as well as the whole range of services to the residents in most need. Our pandemic planning with the NHS at a local level has been top rate and the communication of messages on the progress of the pandemic has been faultless. Our administration wants this to continue as long as it is needed.”
Note: the budget was adopted by 36 votes in favour, to 17 against and 5 abstentions. A recording of the meeting is available here: https://youtu.be/NY1MhQ-Bkd8