Bristol mayor warns looming council cuts will be "deep"
Bristol mayor George Ferguson has admitted that frontline services which help the young, elderly and infirm will not escape looming council cuts.
In a new year's letter to the city's 70 councillors, Mr Ferguson says that he has tried to protect the most vulnerable people as far as possible.
But he says he has had little room for manoeuvre because of the severity of the cuts which total more than £30 million.
He says "the majority of the proposed cuts come out of administration and re-organisation rather than direct services" which implies there will be some damage to frontline services.
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He says: "The budget is going to be the biggest issue over the next few weeks, with deep cuts imposed on us as part of the Government's austerity package.
"Both I and Geoff Gollop, who holds the finance portfolio, have been anxious that whatever we decide protects the most vulnerable as far as can be achieved, although our room for manoeuvre has been limited by the time available since coming into office.
"I propose having a much more fundamental review throughout the coming year. Nevertheless we have ensured that the majority of the proposed cut comes out of administration and re-organisation rather than out of direct services, which of course presents some risk in itself."
Mr Ferguson says that he plans to raise council tax bills by just under two per cent which represents a freeze in real terms because the jump is less than the current rate of inflation.
A two per cent increase would add about £30 a year to an average council tax bill.
Mr Ferguson says that if he did not raise the council tax, then he would have to make even more cuts next year which he says would be "unacceptable".
But he has promised to help 29,000 of the poorest council tax payers by meeting the cost of a discount scheme which the Government is no longer going to fund.
Mr Ferguson admits that his first weeks in office have turned out to be a steep learning curve for him.
He says: "As we all know, with power comes great responsibility and I am only too aware that I am extremely fortunate to be Bristol's city mayor and want to ensure that we work as one city for the single purpose that we all share, that it is to leave Bristol a better city than we found it.
"To achieve that we shall all have to pull in the same direction, even if we may have some different priorities."
He says that he is happy to carry on with a slimmed-down cabinet of three until after the local elections in May although he hoping to appoint another cabinet member soon to take on the education portfolio.
He is promising to reduce the number of senior management posts to cut down on costs.
He says: "As part of the cost savings I am also looking at a more slimline executive.
"In effect, the elected City Mayor is both Leader and Chief Executive of the Council although I have no intention of being desk bound or to take on the day to day responsibilities of chief executive.
"My principal job is to 'beat the drum' for Bristol which I intend to do very loudly in the coming months, including raising our profile as potential Green Capital and seeking investment in the Temple Quarter Enterprise Zone and other city region development areas."
He also hints at an autumn visit to China to promote both export and inward investment.
Mr Ferguson does not plan to replace the acting chief executive Graham Sims when he retires in the spring.
Instead, he plans to appoint a chief operating officer on a three-year contract "preferably with a strong business background".
He tells councillors that he is anxious they do not feel marginalised and that he wants to see their role in their wards celebrated and strengthened.
Mr Ferguson outlines how he plans to cut down on staff serving the political parties as part of cost-saving measures.
He has invited Lord Heseltine to give a keynote speech at a conference in the city in May called, 'What is Local Government For?' which will be a precurser to a fundamental review of services and the civic budget.
He strongly supports the idea of all-out elections on a four-yearly cycle to coincide with the next mayoral election in 2016. He also advocates a review of ward boundaries.
Mr Ferguson finishes by saying he wants to use the next three years to put Bristol at the forefront of Britain's great cities by beating the national trend in jobs and housing as well as seeking desperately needed improvements in the areas of transport, environment, education and care.