Council tax will rise by 2.99% in Bristol after the city council passed its budget at the second attempt.
But the pact agreed in advance between Labour mayor Marvin Rees’s administration and opposition Conservatives, which ensured the financial plans for the next 12 months and beyond had enough votes, was blasted by councillors as an “unholy alliance” and an anti-democratic “stitch-up”.
Bristol’s mayor told the meeting he had three options following the previous attempt to pass the budget – accept all the amendments, which he said he couldn’t do because of the need for budget cuts; resubmit his original, unaltered budget, which would have been “unnecessarily adversarial”; or find a compromise, which he had done.
Rees’s alternative budget, which included some of the Greens’ wish list, such as residents’ parking schemes and protecting free parking, along with Conservative requests to repair Kingsweston Iron Bridge and reduce bulky waste collection charges, among others, was then approved after another debate.
Members voted in favour by 34-8 with 18 abstentions, as some Greens along with both Knowle Community councillors opposed it, while other Greens and the Lib Dems abstained.
Rising costs of living
Full council, which met on Wednesday 2 March, first had to decide on the budget as amended at the previous meeting last month when members voted in favour of five of the nine sets of proposed opposition changes – four by the Greens and one by Knowle Community Party, but none of the Conservatives’ changes.
But because the mayor had not accepted all these, it required a two-thirds majority to succeed and the Labour and Tory councillors’ votes ensured it fell by 33-27.
The new budget means the local authority’s portion of council tax will rise by £55.20 to £1,901.22 for an average Band D property and by £42.93 to £1,478.72 for Band B households, which are the most numerous in the city.
Adding on the much smaller increases for Avon & Somerset Police and Avon Fire Authority, total bills landing on Band D doormats from April 1 will be £2,230.37 and for Band B £1,734.74.
Councillors react to service cuts that balance the council’s books
Councillor Heather Mack, leader of the Greens, said the revised budget had some positives but it excluded several of her group’s suggestions which full council had approved last time, including reopening public toilets.
She said: “It is fundamentally wrong to make deep cuts to services like those in this budget while also adding millions to the council’s reserves.”
Green Councillor Martin Fodor said the Conservative-Labour agreement was an “unholy alliance”, adding: “This isn’t a cross party budget, it’s a backroom deal budget where a Labour-Tory coalition seeks to bypass the actual representation across the city.”
Lib Dem group leader Councillor Jos Clark accused the mayor of putting his interests above the city’s by cutting a deal that was “stitched up behind the scenes, not in the public gaze”.
She said: “The mayor chose to speak to the Tory Party rather than seek consensus. The budget as passed has reintroduced measures that full council voted against – achieving in private what they failed to in public.”
‘A budget for homes, a budget for inclusion and a budget for decarbonisation’
Mayor Marvin Rees said afterwards: “There were, in total, 17 revisions to the budget initially put forward – these were sensible, well-reasoned spending proposals and I was happy to incorporate them into the budget.
“This budget is first and foremost a housing budget and includes £1.8 billion worth of investment for Bristol’s council homes, which will see us build 2,000 council homes by 2028, spend £80 million on making homes more energy efficient and provide funding for council tenants to upgrade their bathrooms.”
During the meeting, the mayor told councillors members: “This is a budget for homes, a budget for inclusion and a budget for decarbonisation. We are unapologetically ambitious.”
He noted that the budget allows the council to maintain the council tax reduction scene at 100%, meaning 38,000 families don’t have to pay any council tax, and double the Local Crisis Prevention Fund which gives emergency grants to people in need of financial support. It also invests in assets and frontline services, despite austerity.