Bristol City Council budget in limbo as mayor takes time to 'carefully consider' amendments

Bristol City Council's annual budget is in limbo after mayor Marvin Rees postponed a decision to accept a raft of changes put forward by opposition councillors.

Bristol mayor Marvin Rees has described his budget as a "no frontline cuts" proposal, with a focus on the authority's internal cuts and investments in housing.

But Green opposition group leader Cllr Heather Mack has described it as "unnecessarily harsh" while trade unions said poorer households will suffer a “triple whammy” of a 2.99% council tax rise, a 4.1% council rent increase and a possible 20-30% hike in tenants’ service charges.

At a full council meeting which lasted almost five hours last night (February 15), Mr Rees ended the meeting by exercising his right to take up to five days to either incorporate changes opposition groups have suggested or reject them.

It is the first time this has happened under the mayoral system in Bristol and means a second meeting of all councillors is now required, on March 2

What is proposed in the budget?

The mayor has described his proposal as "a housing budget", with £1.8million in funding for council homes, £80million to improve energy efficiency, and £12.5million funding for tenants to upgrade their bathrooms.

Some of the cuts proposed include the closure of a rehab centre while money will also be made through increasing allotment plot charges and parking fees.

The mayor's proposal includes introducing parking charges at the council’s 15 free car parks and expanding charges to more of the city's parks and green spaces, including Blaise Estate, Oldbury Court and Ashton Court.

The budget also includes plans to cut the amount spent on the city's museums by £400k while introducing new admission fees for two museums.

How will Bristol City Council's budget impact household bills?

What amendments have been suggested?

Five of the nine alternative sets of proposals were voted through – four tabled by the Greens and one by Knowle Community Party. Both the Tories’ and Lib Dems’ plans failed to get a majority in favour.

Two of the successful Green amendments included reversing the proposal to scrap 30 minutes’ free parking in residents’ parking zones (RPZs), with money instead to come from higher fees after the first half hour.

The amendments also included more traffic-free “school streets” schemes, at least one new RPZ and 18 more traffic wardens.

Other suggestions were voted through by opposition members but did not receive the backing of the Labour group, which lost its overall majority in last May’s local elections.

Among these proposals were reopening public toilets as well as £4million of investment in parks and neighbourhoods and, from Knowle Community Party, a £280,000 borrowing facility for the new community management company of Jubilee Pool.

A campaign is ongoing to save Jubilee Pool from closure Credit: ITV News West Country

Mayor stresses importance of 'housing budget'

After the meeting, Mr Rees said: “I have made the decision to bring the budget back to a second meeting, after all amendments put forward at the first budget have been carefully considered.

“This was, first and foremost, a housing budget. It included £1.8billion for council homes, providing funding for 2,000 council homes, £80million to improve energy efficiency, and £12.5million funding for tenants to upgrade their bathrooms.

“We look forward to the second budget meeting, after we’ve had time to consider the measures they put forward. I hope councillors acknowledge how important this budget is for Bristol and won’t stand in the way of £3.8billion worth of investment.”

But, speaking before the budget was approved, GMB Avon & Wessex branch president Jeff Sutton said: "Low-paid citizens face a triple whammy of a 3% rise in council tax, 4% rise in rent and probably 20-30% rise in their service charges.

“Add the increase of energy charges and it’s a prohibitive amount.”

Credit: Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporter