Bath & North East Somerset Council’s new administration has outlined its plans and priorities for the next four to five years. They include addressing the climate emergency, securing more affordable housing, reducing congestion and giving residents a bigger say in local decision making.
A report on the Medium Term Financial Strategy, due to go before the cabinet on September 12, includes proposals for developing a new Corporate Strategy. Once adopted, this will guide decision making and prioritise resources, crucial given the funding challenges the council faces.
The key themes proposed for the new Corporate Strategy are:
Addressing the climate emergency: this includes plans to work with local communities to deliver the council resolution agreed in March 2019 to declare a climate emergency, and for Bath & North East Somerset to become carbon neutral by 2030. The report identifies that work is already under way on this key priority, with a report due to be presented to council in October 2019
Delivering for residents: this includes securing more affordable and social housing and improving the quality of rented housing, as well as making housing stock greener and tackling fuel poverty. The council will also focus on reducing congestion and delivering significant improvements to public transport, walking and cycling facilities. Alongside the introduction of the Clean Air Zone, there are wider ambitions for a more pedestrian-friendly city centre and for reducing the impact of cars in residential streets through better traffic management and reductions in ‘rat-running’. The council is also committed to making the best use of digital technology to deliver services.
Focusing on prevention: the report identifies that social care services for both adults and children are key statutory functions for local authorities and that – while the council must provide care for those who need it- it also wants to find more ways to enable people to enjoy wellbeing and to live independently. This provides better outcomes as well as reducing demand and costs through better preventative services.
Giving people a bigger say: the council aims to be transparent and open and give residents a bigger say. It will do this through schemes such as Citizens Juries to involve local people in the decision-making process.
Councillor Dine Romero, council leader, said: “We are focusing on four key priorities for the benefit of all our communities across Bath and North East Somerset. They will help us make sure our city and surrounding towns and villages are clean, green and healthy places with opportunities for everyone.
“We want people to have a bigger say about what happens in their communities and this also includes this proposed new strategy and associated budget. We will be holding a series of forums later this year across the district to listen to people’s views.
“It goes without saying that balancing the budget to achieve our priorities remains a challenge, not just for us, but for all local authorities. The national approach to funding local government is currently under review but this is unlikely to increase core funding to the levels needed.”
The report highlights that Bath & North East Somerset Council has already made substantial savings with £69m delivered between 2013/14 and 2018/19 and, a further £9m is expected in this financial year – a total of £78m over seven years.
Estimates show the council will need to find a further £36.8m, including the £3.4m already identified, over the next five years.
The report estimates that £11.92m of savings will be required in 2020/21. This assumes increases of 2.99% per annum in council tax for each year of the plan. Bath & North East Somerset has the third lowest council tax compared to other South West unitary authorities.
Councillor Richard Samuel, cabinet member for Resources, said: “There is no doubt we are going to have to make some difficult decisions, but we will do so in the framework of a clear set of priorities.
“We are facing a big rise in demand for services in Adult Social Care and Children’s Services. For example there’s been a 40% rise in the number of children the council looks after in the past five years. There’s also been a huge increase in the number of children diagnosed with special educational needs. The costs of SEND should be absorbed within a grant we receive from the Department of Education, but it’s not enough to meet demand. It’s costing us £2.3m each year while we try to reduce costs by lobbying Government, and by allocating capital funds to create more places in mainstream schools.
“Over the years the council has had to make savings due to reductions in central government grant. We have increased our income from heritage and our commercial estate, but with current difficulties within the retail sector this is also a tough environment to operate in.
“We will continue to lobby the Government on areas such as funding to compensate for the increase in student households, proper funding for adult and children’s social care, and additional funding for children with Special Education Needs and or Disability.”
For the cabinet report follow this link: https://democracy.bathnes.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?MId=4666&x=1