Bristol Green Party has today responded to the publication of an independent report (1) on the financial position of Bristol City Council saying it provides “further proof” that both local government finances and democracy are at breaking point.
The report, written by former Audit Commission Chief Executive Steve Bundred, found that the “underlying financial pressures were not of the council’s own making”. It goes on to cite the cuts to government grant income, combined with the increasing cost and rises in demand for council services, as issues directly impacting on how the council structures and funds the services it offers.
The report further highlights “a collective failure of leadership” in achieving past savings and in how the council managed the process, specifically highlighting the need for greater democratic accountability of officer reports.
Commenting on the report, leader of the Green group of councillors, Charlie Bolton, said,
“It would be easy for this report to turn into a blame game, but the term ‘collective failure’ is crucial here. This report is further proof that the council is an institution struggling under the weight of cuts and failing in part to adequately address them. Local government services and social care are being abandoned by this Tory government whilst it spends hundreds of billions of pounds replacing Trident, building a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point and building HS2. Bristol City Council has already suffered savage cuts – we have seen over £170 million of cuts by central government over the last 6 years and extensive job losses within the council. We are now approaching breaking point.”
He continued, “There are clear lessons to be learnt from this report and as Greens we will continue to put forward practical and principled responses and alternatives to the cuts (2) from redirecting business rates into social care through to increasing parking charges at some sites around the city. Everyone in Bristol relies on Bristol City Council services but it is the least well-off in our city that will suffer the most from this financial mismanagement. This is a crisis for all of us who rely on the services that the Council provides and one that Green councillors will do all within their powers to mitigate.”
Tony Dyer, The Green Party’s Local Government spokesperson and parliamentary candidate for Bristol South added,
“The content of today's report is disappointing but not wholly unexpected. I have been warning of the size of Bristol’s budget deficit for many months now (3). This report is further proof that the Single Change Programme was failing to deliver on its promised savings. It was also well known that council's scrutiny function is under-resourced and undervalued resulting in the councillors being inevitably marginalised, something which must now be addressed. “
Mr Dyer pointed out that the impact of the rapid turnover of financial officers at the council on the effectiveness of the council's financial monitoring was also entirely foreseeable.
“This report has added important details but the overarching problems affecting the council's performance have been long established.”
“The report makes useful recommendations to improve the ability of Bristol City Council to oversee delivery of its services, and some of these are already being implemented. But it would be foolish to pretend that, even if all the recommendations are successfully implemented, Bristol City Council will be able to deliver the level of public services required in the face of continuing cuts to local government funding.”
(1) The full report can be seen at https://documents.vuelio.uk.com/DocumentView.aspx?id=9a3ef588-96a5-4c73-96d4-7e06d67c4be4.pdf&token=1be9adaf-2b79-49c6-8673-48c1013e93cf
(2) The Green Group of Councillors submitted a document responding to the budget consultation outlining a series of policy suggestions. This document can be seen here http://www.bristolgreenparty.org.uk/library/recent_work_/Green_councillors_response_to_the_corporate_strategy_consultation.pdf
(3) Green Mayoral candidate Tony Dyer warned of the scale of the financial challenges facing the council back in May 2016: http://www.bristolpost.co.uk/mayoral-candidate-warns-80million-bristol-city/story-29254872-detail/story.html
(4) Contact details: for further information or to arrange interviews please contact Tony Dyer on firstname.lastname@example.org or ring 07729690245