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Bristol Post
Bristol Post
Adam Postans

What Bristol City Council's opposition Lib Dems want to do with your money

Bristol city councillors will vote on Labour mayor Marvin Rees’s annual budget on Tuesday afternoon (February 21). A meeting of full council at City Hall will decide the fate of proposed cuts and savings totalling £16.2million in the 12 months from April to balance the authority’s books, including a big increase in garden waste subscription fees, new pay-and-display parking and a 4.99 per cent council tax rise.

Each year the opposition groups suggest their own changes to the budget, called amendments, which will also be voted on in turn. Like the overall revenue spending plans for day-to-day services, which run up to £483.5million for 2023/24, any investments in schemes or the scrapping of new or increased charges have to pay themselves by taking funding from elsewhere in the council’s coffers.

The Greens, Conservatives, Lib Dems and Knowle Community Party have each set out what they would do with your money. Here are the suggestions from the Liberal Democrats.

Read more: Bristol Live demands better buses for Bristol

The group wants redirect cash to save two subsidised buses facing the axe, reverse some of the proposed fee increases for waste services and speed up SEND assessments. One of two amendments tabled by Hengrove & Whitchurch Park ward Cllr Andrew Brown would increase the supported bus services grant the council pays to the West of England Combined Authority (Weca) to the levels asked for by Labour metro mayor Dan Norris, a 20 per cent rise, and “ensure services are restored to communities left with no service”.

The Lib Dems say the additional £500,000 would rescue the 516 and the 52 routes with at least an hourly service for the next 12 months. An equalities impact assessment in the budget papers said improvements to bus services would benefit disabled people, carers and people from LGBT+ groups who find inaccessible public transport a barrier to leaving their home.

Cllr Brown’s second set of proposals aims to scrap the Labour administration’s charges for replacement recycling containers, collection of Christmas trees and disposal of household DIY waste at council tips. The amendment says a review of alternative approaches could be carried out, including allowing residents to use their own containers and “recognising that containers break or go missing and that a charge, however small, could act as a disincentive to recycling and the city meeting its targets”.

A council officer’s assessment said Bristol Waste’s business plan, set to be published this week, was “dependent on the introduction of the service charges”. It said: “If these charges are removed or in some cases delayed by one year, the municipal waste contract would operate at a significant loss and would not be able to deliver against its obligations.”

The officer said a study by an advisory board to Defra found no link between charging for DIY waste and fly-tipping. Both of Cllr Brown’s amendments would be paid for by taking a total of £930,000 from the council’s climate and ecological reserves.

The officer’s assessment said this pot of money was allocated to the authority’s climate and ecological emergency programme and that four to six planned projects would have to be cancelled, while the council’s response would be slowed down and its ability to secure external funding reduced. Hengrove & Whitchurch Park ward Cllr Tim Kent has tabled an amendment focused on helping parents of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

He wants to cut the amount allocated to legal defences of SEND appeals by £184,000 a year and use the money to employ caseworkers to improve assessment times and to review and resolve disputed cases. A council officer’s assessment said: “It is not possible to set a fixed budget for defence of legal claims as we have no control over the number or complexity/cost of claims that are made against the council in any given year.

“The current investments reflect current trends and therefore there would have to be some flexibility should actual cost be incurred.” On recruiting more caseworkers, it said: “The budget incorporates a proposal to invest an additional £1million to support the recruitment of additional [SEND] staff to improve the assessment timescales.

“With the increased SEND cases and the need to reduce the statutory wait time of 20 weeks, further investment in caseworkers will assist in meeting the statutory need and reduce the number of complaints that relate to timeliness.”

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POLITICS: To keep up to date with latest Bristol politics news, and discuss thoughts with other residents, join our Bristol politics news and discussion here. You can also sign up to our politics newsletter here .

Click here for the latest headlines from in and around Bristol.

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