Bristol mayor George Ferguson has 'lost sleep' over impact of budget
BRISTOL mayor George Ferguson has admitted "losing sleep" over the impact on the city's most vulnerable people of £35 million in council cuts.
But he said he was very proud of what had been achieved in protecting frontline services as far as possible.
During a debate which lasted nearly six hours in the council chamber at City Hall yesterday, Mr Ferguson said he never worried about getting his budget passed.
He told councillors: "I have no bother whether I am elected again – I will take every decision based on Bristol's best interests. I have no delight in making any cuts at all.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Our heavyweight cards have FREE UV silk coating, FREE next day delivery & VAT included. Choose from 1000's of pre-designed templates or upload your own artwork. Orders dispatched within 24hrs.
Terms: Visit our site for more products: Business Cards, Compliment Slips, Letterheads, Leaflets, Postcards, Posters & much more. All items are free next day delivery. www.myprint-247.co.uk
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Friday, May 31 2013
"It's not a question of whether I get the budget through but I have lost sleep over some of the cuts and what sort of impact they will have on some of the citizens of this city."
Most of the Liberal Democrats voted in favour of Mr Ferguson's budget, together with the Tories. Labour councillors abstained.
The decision means that more than 300 jobs are expected be lost from the council's 7,000 workforce, of which about 100 are likely to be compulsory redundancies.
Council tax bills will go up by just under two per cent, which means the average increase will be about £30 a year.
Most council taxpayers in Bristol live in Band A to C homes which means they will see their bills rise by less than 50p a week from April.
The city joins North Somerset in raising tax bills this year after years of freezes. South Gloucestershire and B&NES froze bills again this year.
Mr Ferguson opened the debate with a 20-minute speech, in which he said: "I guessed that there might be anger in the public gallery today because some people feel so passionately about various issues, so let me say up front that I share your anger to a large extent."
He said he was angry that the bulk of public spending cuts had fallen onto local councils and flagged up that the amount he was forced to save rose from £28 million to £35 million in just a few days.
But the mayor said he passionately believed in what was possible, what was practical and what was deliverable.
He warned councillors: "If we don't set a legal budget, then a Whitehall apparatchik can come in and take a knife to our services without a second thought. I simply won't contemplate the luxury of making that kind of gesture when the people who would pay for it would be some of the most vulnerable recipients of the services we provide and the committed carers and staff who provide them."
Lib Dem leader Tim Kent said he shared the mayor's anger over the extent of the cuts imposed by the Government and said the unfair funding system urgently needed reform.
Labour leader Helen Holland said year-on-year cuts had taken their toll and now families were suffering.
She said former council leader Simon Cook was wrong when he suggested that the average Bristol resident would hardly notice the effect of the cuts.
She said: "We are beginning to see people really hurting as a result of council cuts. It is absolute anathema to me that we have food banks in our city in the 21st century."
Tory leader Peter Abraham said that, unlike Whitehall, councils had borne the brunt of cuts which had gone too far.
Most of the controversial issues were sorted out in cross-party reviews during the consultation period in the run up to yesterday's meeting.
These include the reinstatement of 32 PCSOs (police community service officers) who were axed in the original proposals; saving Bristol's night buses; not going ahead with car parking charges at Blaise Castle and Oldbury Court estates; and putting £50,000 back into the Community Transport budget.
This left only three amendments which were debated and approved yesterday. They included delaying – instead of scrapping – the building a new swimming pool in East Bristol and a new waste recycling centre in Hartcliffe.
The delays will give council officers and councillors a chance to find new funding arrangements during the next year.
Councillors agreed to save the Adult Leisure Learning Service from closure.
It had been under threat because the Green Party wanted to scrap the service in order to protect the homeless.
But they withdrew after the Lib Dems put forward an amendment to take money from a contingency fund as a one-off measure for one year, to continue protecting the homeless and therefore save the learning service from being shut down.
A further amendment was also passed to stop cuts in the auditing department, which saves hundreds of thousands of pounds a year by detecting benefit fraud.
Most of the savings – nearly £20 mil- lion – come from leaving council posts vacant; changes in working practices and conditions; early retirement packages and reductions in management staff.
Mr Ferguson warned that a further £65 million worth of council cuts will have to be made during the following three years.
But unlike this year, in which he only had weeks to draw up his proposals and consult on them, he plans to take a holistic long-term view in future years.