B&NES Council Leader, Cllr. Tim Warren, has said the Council can be financially self-sufficient by 2020, if there is more innovation and partnership with local communities in how services are delivered. This, he said, offers the best way to address challenging financial times, as the Government continues to work on reducing the country's annual budget deficit.
Speaking at the Bath City Conference in the Guildhall on Friday, October 13th, Cllr Warren reminded attendees that the last Administration left B&NES with an annual budget deficit of over £1.5m, and continuing reliance on central government funds. This had to change, he said.
"All Councils are facing a very challenging set of financial circumstances resulting from a combination of the government’s deficit reduction programme, and increasing pressures on our adult social care budgets: as a council 75p in the pound of our spending goes on adult social care & children’s services, and this could rise to 80p next year.
"This will mean further tough choices over what services we can continue to afford and how we best prioritise them. But it also means we need a strong vision for how we can continue to invest in the things that matter most to residents, whilst at the same time growing our economy.
As an administration we have three clear objectives:
- a council which is efficient and well run;
- a council which invests in the future of our area;
- and a council which puts the interests of residents first.
"Our aim is to make B&NES a council which is financially self-sufficient by 2020, making us less reliant on changes to government funding in the years ahead. To achieve this, we not only have to be more innovative and efficient in the way we deliver services, but also more entrepreneurial and forward looking in the way we generate our own income.
"This will be achieved through a combination of smart investments that generate an ongoing income for the council and investing in our economy to grow businesses which not only create jobs but also generate business rates to support our local services.
Cllr Warren said B&NES has already had some success, with the Council already part of the government’s business rate retention pilot scheme, and an extra £1.7m of additional commercial income being generated this year alone. A new Council-owned housing company is not only helping provide more of the new homes our area needs, but is also generating an income that will be reinvested back into local services and the local economy.
"But we will need to go further still, which is why we remain committed to supporting our Enterprise Zones and why we joined the West of England Devolution agreement. Investing in infrastructure – whether it be transport infrastructure such as the A36-46 link road and the MetroWest rail project, or ultrafast broadband connections - will play a crucial role in supporting economic growth, and there should be further announcements from the West of England Mayor on these issues in the coming weeks."
Cllr Warren said the administration will continue to look for increased efficiency in the Council, using new technology to both reduce costs and change the way people interface with the Council. Some services may be integrated to make them sustainable for the long term, and more opportunities will be explored to work with local communities to harness the passion they have for supporting community-based services.
"Where we can bring services together and provide investment upfront, not only to deliver long term savings, but also protect a valued service, and modernise it to meet the needs of today’s service users - such as in the case of Bath Library - then this is exactly the type of thing the Council needs to do to be sustainable for the future.
"I do not pretend that these changes are easy, and we have been upfront about the challenges we face and the difficult decisions that will still need to be taken. But alongside these challenges remain many opportunities and we continue to have a strong vision for how we can make Bath and North East Somerset an even better place to live and work – with more job opportunities for our area’s young people, more affordable homes for residents to live in, and a more self-sufficient and entrepreneurial council that can continue to invest in the high quality services residents rightly demand."