Council tax will rise by 5% and council tenant rents by 7% under Bristol City Council’s new budget plans.
But proposed cuts to parks, libraries and the council tax reduction scheme, which helps the poorest families, have been shelved following a backlash.
An updated council budget, to be recommended by mayor Marvin Rees’s cabinet on 24 January, also includes new proposals to increase the cost of garden waste collections from £32 to £50 a year and charging second-home owners full council tax.
Councillors will then vote on proposals next month.
The council tax hike, comprising the maximum allowed 2.99% for general services and 2% for adult social care, means a £94.87 increase for band D properties and excludes smaller precepts from the police and fire authorities.
Despite the extra income, the local authority still faces a £20.3 million budget gap in 2023/24, going up to £40.2m in four years, although the cabinet papers say the worse-case scenario by 2027/28 is a £125m blackhole.
The council has proposed savings totalling £16.2m in the 12 months from April and £30.2m overall.
This has come down from the £45.7m of suggested cutbacks in its original draft budget that the council recently consulted on, which included £1.5m less for parks, a £1.4m cut for libraries and £3m savings on the council tax reduction scheme.
All three have been reversed following public feedback and with some more money from the government to help the worst-off.
A further £8.8m will be used from reserves over the next three years to balance the books.
What the mayor said on updated plans
Mayor Rees said that more than a decade of government austerity has already cut council budgets “to the bone”, adding: “But despite the challenges, we have found a way to continue to protect frontline services.”
He said a consultation on proposals showed people felt particularly strongly about the proposed savings for parks and libraries.
“Central Library will remain in its current home and we will not move ahead with the other aspects of those savings proposals,” he said. “Instead, we will work with the city to find ways to sustainably run these departments with less government funding in the long term.”
Rees said the council budget will protect funding for the city’s 22 children’s centres and 27 libraries.
How the extra income will be spent
Last year, the safety of council blocks across the city came under intense scrutiny following a number of fires, forcing the council the announce major fire safety measures, including removing flammable cladding.
Rees said every penny of the 7% rise in council rents to £90.76 a week would be spent on repairs and improvements to tenants’ homes.
“This includes our sprinkler installation scheme, communal fire alarms and the ‘waking watch’ for homes with expanded polystyrene cladding,” the mayor said.
“With this rent rise, our programme for improving council homes remains on track, with £80m for making them more energy efficient, saving tenants money on their heating bills, our £8.7m fund to improve communal areas and a £12.5m bathroom replacement scheme.”
He said the rent increase would be absorbed for around two-thirds of tenants by the local housing allowance, while others should see the rise offset through the council tax reduction scheme.
Tory group leader Mark Weston said: “We welcome the removal of the libraries and parks spending from the savings plan as these will always be key Conservative priorities when considering what ought to be core council competences.
“Overall, one cannot help but think that the authority’s finances would be in a much better position had the mayor not frittered away so much money on hopeless commercial ventures – Bristol Energy – and the rather grotesque cost of rebuilding the Bristol Beacon.”
Disproportionate impact of cuts
A report to next week’s meeting said: “The medium-term financial outlook is the most severe we have known for many years and the council continues to manage a challenging financial environment.
“The position is unprecedented with national and international factors largely beyond the council’s control, including inflation and pay-related cost increases, rapidly rising energy costs and broader demand pressures and costs in both adults’ and children’s social care.
“The identification and achievement of significant savings is essential to live within our means and to shield us from the immediate impact of government cuts in 2025/26 and beyond.
The report added that the impact of the saving proposals would likely have a disproportionate impact on people living in poverty, low-income families, and “equalities groups particularly on the basis of age and disability.”
It continued: “We will aim to mitigate this disproportionate impact as possible by prioritising and retaining statutory and targeted services which most benefit vulnerable groups.”
The proposed general fund revenue budget totals £483.5m up by £58.5m on this year.
Full council will set the budget on 21 February.