Bristol mayor’s draft budget attacked by city councillors

January 8, 2013

From Bristol 24-7

The leader of Bristol’s Liberal Democrat councillors has described the mayor’s budget announcement as “shambolic”.

Cllr Tim Kent, whose former leader Cllr Simon Cook sits in George Ferguson’s cabinet and supported the mayor’s plans yesterday, said the announcement showed “real disregard for the democratic process” in the city.

Meanwhile, former Labour group leader Cllr Peter Hammond has asked what the poorer residents of East Bristol have done to deserve a “triple whammy of cuts”.

Mr Ferguson outlined his plans to the media yesterday to cut an extra £35m from the city’s budget in the coming year.

He said he was proud to have found around half the money required from efficiency savings in “back-office functions”, but confirmed a review into plans to build a new swimming pool in East Bristol and recycling centre in the south of the city.

“After the mayor leaked details to the press, councillors – who are the democratically elected representatives of the public – have only learned of his budget proposals from the media, not from the mayor,” said Cllr Kent.

“This is a shambolic way to handle such an important budget and it shows real disregard for the democratic process and the city’s ward councillors.

“The budget itself has a number of holes in it – with no figures provided next to some savings items.

“George talks about the majority of his cuts being in backroom services – ‘working in a more modern, cost-effective way’ – but we feel he hasn’t gone far enough.

“More could have been done to find the extra funds for vital projects and frontline services. However, the Liberal Democrat group is willing to work with the Mayor to make his budget more acceptable.”

Labour councillors joined in the anger against the apparent snub, complaining they had been given little or no time to digest the figures before they were released to the public.

“The budget papers are more than averagely complex. Even experienced councillors take time to absorb the impact behind each budget heading,” said acting party leader Cllr Ron Stone.

He added that attempts to get the budget detail earlier were rebuffed with suggestions that it was “still being worked on right across the weekend”.

“If the budget is still a work in progress and uncertain why the rush to publication on Monday? You never know, a bit of feedback from councillors who have experience might prevent the odd gaffe,” he said.

“Councillors – who collectively have tens of thousands of votes behind them as well – are a key part of the democratic process locally. We are increasingly concerned that the mayor’s ‘new ways of working’ are aimed at bypassing any input or critique we may have.

“There cannot be a more important issue than just how £35m is cut from the council budget. All we are asking is for the ability to gain an informed insight.”

Cllr Hammond, whose successor as Labour group leader was last night confirmed as former city council leader Cllr Helen Holland, said residents would be angry about the end to plans to build a new pool at the Brunel Academy site.

He added it was “wanton” to cut all the council-funded police community support officers (PCSOs) and the omission of a youth centre from a list of contracts to go out to tender showed “young people in St George and surrounding areas are clearly not a priority for our new mayor”.

“My constituents are mightily disappointed that the Speedwell Pool has been axed, they are fearful about community safety and they despair about any hope being offered to young people,” he said.

“We all know that difficult decisions have to be made but people in this part of Bristol are wondering what they have done to deserve this?”


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