B&NES Councillors met this evening to discuss the Council budget for the 2016-17 financial year. The budget includes £12M of savings as well as a 3.25% hike in the level of Council Tax residents will be expected to pay. This comes on top of already announced hikes in the precepts charged by the Fire Service, the Police and Crime Commissioner and Parish Councils.
Finance spokesperson for the Lib Dems, Councillor Andy Furse (Kingsmead) commented:
“We are unable to support this budget, which asks residents to pay more and get less. After a five year freeze, residents are being asked to pay 3.25% more Council Tax as well as increases to other precepts. In return, they can expect to see services cut in many departments, with more and more cuts to come.”
“The Conservatives have said they will deliver a balanced budget, but they cannot yet tell us exactly how this will be accomplished. Very little detail has been provided about some of the biggest savings the Conservatives are hoping to achieve. A large proportion of these rely on departmental reviews, which have not yet taken place, and business plans to boost income, which have not yet been developed. Others rely on accounting manipulations.”
“Without these details, Councillors have little chance to assess whether the targets are realistic or whether they will result in further, unacceptable cuts to public services. Some cuts which have already been announced do give cause for concern.”
“Large sums are being taken out of health budgets for example. These seem to be mainly in preventative services, such as helping smokers quit, and programmes such as support for sexual health and substance misusers. Sirona and Curo are expected to deliver yet more savings.”
“In 2015, the Lib Dems allocated an extra £2.2M for highways maintenance, over and above the government grant, to help address the backlog in repairs. The Conservatives have reduced this pothole fund by £1.7M and have not revealed how the £500,000 which remains will be allocated. Inevitably, fewer potholes will be filled, fewer footpaths resurfaced and fewer roads rebuilt.”
“This is also a disappointing budget for the arts and heritage, with cuts lined up for Arts Development and Events grants, the music service, and destination management. These will come on top of planned, significant increases to entry fees for Council-run museums such as the Roman Baths, leading to the inevitable question – are we at risk of over exploitation of the visitor economy?”