Bristol City Council reveals £22 million in cuts
BRISTOL'S biggest-ever council cuts have been unveiled – with a promise to protect frontline services.
But the sheer scale of the cuts means it is inevitable that the young, elderly and the sick will be affected.
The council yesterday announced that £22 million will be slashed from budgets next year in order to balance the civic books.
And there will be a total reduction of £50m by March 2014 – the biggest cuts in the council's history.
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Next year's cuts will mean a loss of 700 council jobs – with 400 already gone – although few, if any, are expected to be as a result of compulsory redundancy. The council employs about 9,000 full-time staff but this does not include those who work in schools.
Council leader Barbara Janke said they had been working on budget savings since earlier in the year because they knew public spending cuts were just around the corner.
But by starting the process early, she said they were able to scrutinise budgets to protect services and make most of the cuts by changing working practices, reviewing contracts, reducing agency staff and reworking how some services are run.
Council tax bills are unlikely to go up next year, however.
This is because the Government has promised to reimburse the council if it limits the council tax rise to 2 per cent – which works out at about 50p a week on average bills. In effect, the Government is offering a council tax freeze.
Mrs Janke said: "The recession and central Government spending have taken a great toll on public finances.
"It was clear to us more than a year ago that whichever party or parties won the general election in May, there would have to be massive spending cuts by local councils."
Mrs Janke said the spending review was not just about cuts, it was an opportunity to reshape the way in which the council was run, change its focus and become more efficient.
One of the ways the Liberal Democrat administration is doing this is to devolve power to the city's 14 Neighbourhood Partnerships so people in communities have more say in what services are provided.
Mrs Janke said: "With all the proposed savings, we have endeavoured to be fair to our staff and to the people who use our services.
"We have tried to ensure frontline services are protected, in particular to young people who have been so hard hit by the recession and who are this city's future.
"We have also tried, wherever possible, to avoid redundancies."
The budget cuts announced yesterday are not the final figures because the council still has to await the outcome of the Government's public spending review, which will not be known until October 20.
Even then, the council will probably have to wait until the end of November or early December before finding out exactly how much it will receive in government grants.
Deputy Labour leader Mark Bradshaw described the cuts as "savage" and said they would affect every corner of the community.
He said: "You can't take out this amount of money from the budget without affecting frontline services."
Tory deputy leader Councillor Peter Abraham said major surgery was needed to make the cuts that were needed.
He said: "I cannot see how frontline services will not be affected.
"What we would be looking to do is examine whole areas of council expenditure and ask if we really need to spend the money.
"If necessary, we should be taking out whole departments."
Bristol GMB union secretary Rowena Hayward said: "We are not talking about tinkering around the edges – these are significant cuts. There's no way that frontline services will not be affected."
She said they were already in official dispute with the council over changes to working conditions and would be consulting with members on the cuts. About 400 council posts have already gone, achieved mainly by freezing vacant posts and ceasing to use agency and temporary staff.
Of the 300 posts to go in the coming year, it is predicted that around 180 will be found by freezing vacancies. Many of the remaining 120 will be found through voluntary severance.
Mrs Janke praised nearly 5,000 Bristol residents who had responded to the council's Big Debate – an invitation to put forward views and comments on services and where cuts should be made.
The council is keen to project the message that efficiency savings can be made without actually affecting the quality of life of people in need.
An example of this is to scrutinise the care packages to some of most vulnerable people in the community.
A total of 90 people in Bristol cost council taxpayers £10m a year with round-the-clock care by qualified staff – around £111,000 each.
But the council says about £1m could be saved by reviewing exactly what care is provided and renegotiating their packages.
Another example is to find out what elderly people who live in their own homes actually need and tailor their care packages to meet individual requirements.
In residential care homes, many staff are still working to outdated contracts that mean, for example, they are still getting time off for childcare, even though their children have grown up. The time off has to be filled by agency staff, which can be very costly.
New working practices are being introduced into libraries – including an automated checking in system for books and other items.
Deputy leader Simon Cook said there would be no library closures.
In the children's and young care department, about £250,000 will be saved by increasing fostering care instead of placing young people in care.
About £400,000 is expected to be saved by increasing parking charges and improving enforcement by taking on more street wardens and the use of CCTV.
The council is reducing costs by reducing the number of office buildings it uses and several departments have already moved to the former Somerfield headquarters at Whitchurch.
Among the cuts will be grants to voluntary organisations, which means funding will not be renewed for those groups whose grant runs out at the end of March.
● South Gloucestershire Council has already revealed two lots of job cuts, with an announcement made last year of 317 posts being axed and more recently a third of senior managers.
The 317 losses – one in 10 of non-teaching jobs – are going over a period of three years as part of efforts to save £12m.
● North Somerset Council has said it is still "too early" to speculate on what the impact of the Government's spending review will be. It said it could not say what, if any, effect it would have on staffing levels.
The authority is currently examining ways to meet the funding gap while continuing to maintain services for residents and investigating ways of saving an extra £30m from budgets in the next four years.
● Bath and North-East Somerset Council is also expecting to cut more than 300 jobs, as well as halve its office space, to cope with the government spending cuts.
B&NES says it needs to save £35m during the period to cope with government spending cuts.