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Council confident that budget plans protect frontline services

By Chron_News  |  Posted: February 06, 2013

Paul Crossley

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Council chiefs say they are confident they have managed to preserve vital frontline services as they unveil another council tax freeze for the next financial year.

Budget proposals which will see around £3 million of cuts will be discussed by Bath and North East Somerset councillors next Wednesday.

The authority says it has managed to save £25 million in “back office savings” in recent years and is confident that a £147 million package of investment in regeneration and transport schemes is on track.

The Liberal Democrat authority has shelved proposals to start charging in its suburban free car parks - such as the one at Larkhall, and has protected virtually all its supported bus services, including the 6/7 at Larkhall and Fairfield Park in Bath, as well as ensuring there are no cuts in street cleaning, and that most existing parking charges are frozen.

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But it is still looking at closing some public toilets, introducing charges for touring exhibitions at the Victoria Art Gallery and reducing the mobile library service.

Council leader Paul Crossley (Lib Dem, Southdown) said: “Our proposal puts people first and communities at the heart of everything we do whilst ensuring our most vulnerable residents are given the support that they need.

“Because the council has made back office savings of more than £25 million over recent years, delivered balanced budgets, and maintained a strong level of reserves, we are one of the few town halls in the region to propose freezing council tax whilst making sensible investment into our local communities.

“The cabinet is listening to feedback from local people about their priorities.”

The council said it was considering a voluntary tourism levy to bring in extra cash, although no details have yet been revealed of how this might work, and was making further administrative savings “to become one of the most efficient councils in the country.”

But its cabinet member for resources Councillor David Bellotti (Lib Dem, Lyncombe) said people and community groups would have to get more involved in running services to help balance the books.

“Because of our financial track record, the council is in a better position than many other councils to reduce the impact on frontline services, particularly for elderly and vulnerable people. The challenges that we face mean that the council must look at how to make further back office savings and provide services differently in the future.

“This could mean working more closely with community groups and local people when they are in the best position to make a difference to the place where they live, such as through our Community Library Programme or taking over the running of particular public toilets.”

One of the biggest pressures on the council - and all local authorities - is the cost of social care for an ageing population, with the number of over-85s likely to grow by 7.7 per cent in the next three years.

B&NES will spend £260 million over the next three years on adult social care, which it says “must be focused on the most vulnerable people, promoting their independence through improved community services to ensure that residents, where possible, stay at home.”

It plans to invest £500,000 in cycle routes and £4.9 million on a combination of road surface improvements and safety schemes in the next year, with another £225,000 going into improving the equipment in its children’s playgrounds.

The final budget will be set at a full council meeting on February 19.

Opposition Tories claim the ruling administration has still not got a grip on spending, and that the number of staff on salaries above £53,000 a year has increased from 58 to 60 in the two years that the Liberal Democrats have been running the council.

Conservative spokesman for community resources, Councillor Charles Gerrish (Con, Keynsham North) said: “These astonishing figures reveal that the Liberal Democrats have wasted the past two years, which should have been spent making the council a more lean and efficient organisation.”

B&NES is particularly proud of its support for non-moneymaking bus services, and says there will be improvements to the 700/ 716/ 734 serving Sion Hill, Locksbrook Road, and Bathwick and the 12 serving Haycombe Cemetery, Dartmouth Avenue, and Oldfield Park, although B&NES is ending the Sunday contract on this route.

Meanwhile, next Wednesday’s cabinet meeting can be seen via a webcast in a first for the council.

The 6.30pm meeting can be viewed via www.bathnes.gov.uk/webcast.

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