Bristol Council's 2015/16 'austerity’ budget: hurting the most vulnerable and reducing public services.
Edited from Charlie Bolton’s speech to council budget meeting, 17th, Feb, 2015
The funding cuts continue to dominate thinking in local government. They are part of the coalition government austerity programme which we, as Greens, believe is quite simply wrong. The cut of £80 million pounds, over three years to 2017, is a quarter of our total expenditure, and a lot to lose. But, we understand from senior officers, that whoever wins the forthcoming general election, the effect in Bristol is likely to be a further loss of another 12%, or £45million, over the first two years of the next government.
The cuts are not an act of necessity: they are an act of ideology. They victimise those who did not cause the crisis in the first place, and discriminate disproportionately against the poorest and most vulnerable in society. Some cuts are quite simply vicious: 55% of recipients of Disability Living Allowance have either had their benefit cut, or seen it entirely removed.
But, they are also ineffective: the Coalition austerity programme - designed to cut debt - has seen the debt increase by about 80% from 2010 levels.
At a national level, the alternative to austerity is simple: it is to forgo austerity. Alternative economic models do exist that suggest that you can spend your way out of recession and pay the money off in the good times. The Institute for Fiscal Studies suggests that the coalition approach of cuts has potentially set the UK economy back to the tune of £100 billion.
At a local level, we want to propose prudential borrowing to generate further income. We suggest investing in the profitable City Design Team, and increasing funding to the council’s Energy Company - both of which could bring in income, and would be sustainable activities. We do not agree that the MetroBus will radically alter bus usage in the city. But we do want to see a quadrupling of the number of bus users in the city - by creating more bus routes going to further parts of the city - and we also want to promote investment in infrastructure projects to increase cycling and walking activities.
In addition, we are pleased to support the amendments for the new recycling centre in Hartcliffe, and a swimming pool in East Bristol - both much needed public amenities.
Overall, we agree with the intention and specifics of many of the proposed amendments - we praise council officers for their acumen in managing the cuts process: it could have been much worse - but we caution against being too complacent. This time next year we will have the same, if not more savage, cuts to decide upon.
As Greens, we want to see a socially just and environmentally sustainable city, country and planet. In Bristol, there are some positive moves towards sustainability. Bristolians, however, are only going to consider their long term prospects when their short term future is secure.
And, against the backdrop of the cuts, too many poorer and vulnerable people have been made victims in ways which can only increase their desperation.
Edited from Tim Malnick’s speech to council budget meeting, 17th, Feb, 2015
It’s completely clear to me that, as city councillors, we are discussing a city budget, the main parameters of which are dictated entirely outside our city – from Whitehall.
The Mayor doesn’t choose the budget he has to work with; the revenue he raises and the funding he receives are largely outside of his control; officers only choose what and where to cut, to do least damage - but they will get the flak, when services start to struggle.
Local people here in Bristol have little choice over where central government cuts fall hardest.
But the chancellor can choose. He has made clear, conscious choices, each and every one of which affects the details of the budget, the options available, and the daily lives of people in Bristol. From 2010, he has chosen to cut more from local government spending than from any other area of government.
And the chancellor chooses, quite deliberately, to tell a particular story: a story that divides us into ‘workers and shirkers’, ‘hard working families and benefits cheats’ – when he knows full well that most benefit claimants are in work, have families and require help because their job contracts are too vulnerable, their wages are too low and their living costs too high.
Having chaired the budget scrutiny committee I know there is much to support in the hard work behind this budget. There is much on the horizon that is exciting for the city and gives us hope.
My Green Party colleagues and I will continue to work hard, with officers and all members: to develop the case for devolution – so our city has more say over how to raise and manage our own funds; to support initiatives like the energy company when, but only when, there are clear social, environmental and local economic benefits; to find funding models that let us leverage the money we do have to enable 3rd sector organisations and local SMEs to provide the goods and services we need and tackle our long term problems.
In voting against the budget today, we are voting in support of all those exploring an economics based on human decency and real wealth.
In voting against this budget today we are joining a growing movement in Bristol in the UK and across Europe that says, "Enough. The price of austerity is not one worth paying. It costs more than it actually delivers.”
Comment from Darren Hall, Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Bristol West:
“Most people are now aware that the government’s austerity strategy is just a smokescreen for ideological cuts to the public sector and has very little to do with the deficit. Having worked in the civil service for over 10 years, I am horrified at the shameful destruction of the social systems that provide the foundations for our society, and especially those people that need our help the most. From legal aid to mental health, they are ripping chunks out of our society, and Big Society is just a laughable memory.
I think local councils, including Bristol’s, are managing to weather the cuts as best they can - but many are now at breaking point. It cannot, and should not continue."