‘Public partnership’ bid to beat council’s unprecedented cuts
A partnership with the community is at the heart of “fundamental changes” to the way Bath and North East Somerset Council serves its residents. Faced with “historically unprecedented” funding cuts, it can no longer be a “universal provider of all services” so leaders are looking at new ways of working which focus on a “core offer”. To do this, B&NES Council will stop or reduce services, share staffing and resources with other authorities, review its capital spending programme, and look to squeeze more profits from its museums and galleries. By next year a Government grant worth £21 million in 2015/16 will have been slashed to nothing. The cuts have come at the same time as rising costs due to growing demand and demographic changes that mean nearly 82p in every pound is spent on adult social care and children’s services. The result is a forecast budget gap of £50 million by 2023/24. Councillor Charles Gerrish, cabinet member for finance and efficiency, said: “The scale of the financial challenge means some fundamental changes will be required to the way in which a range of services are delivered. “I have been talking in recent months to residents and community groups about our ‘core offer’ and priorities and how we can best work together to deliver services in new and cost-effective ways. “We have also responded to concerns raised locally by requesting from central government the power to introduce a levy on local tourism and short-term holiday lettings, and also for compensation for the loss of council funding for student households.” The strategies are laid out in its new draft organisational plan, which says: “We have no choice but to change the way we do things. We no longer have sufficient resources to be a universal provider of all services. “We can no longer try to provide everything that we have in the past and to that same level; less money and people will mean fewer and different services.” Council leader Tim Warren said: “We must carefully prioritise what we spend to ensure we continue to support our most vulnerable residents. “However, we will also promote the wider wellbeing of the community so our area continues to attract investment and we can improve life chances for local people.” B&NES Council has saved £55 million since 2013 and needs to cut another £12 million from its budget by 2021. Over the next 12 months it will shift its focus to its core offer of:
■ Protecting and caring for the most vulnerable
■ Nurturing residents’ health, safety and wellbeing
■ Providing ways for everyone in the community to reach their full potential The operational plan says the council will do this by reducing or stopping services but maintaining the core offer; sharing staffing with the West of England Combined Authority, the clinical commissioning group and other bodies; and managing demand for adult care. The authority will review its contracts and its capital spending programme, look to increase profits from heritage services, and “rationalise” its use of office space. It is also launching the “B&NES Deal” to replicate a scheme in Wigan, where the council struck “an informal agreement [with] everyone who lives or works here to work together to create a better borough”. The council will look to work even more closely with community groups, parish councils and the voluntary sector to help deliver its priorities. The organisational plan will be scrutinised before it is considered by cabinet members next month.
Councillor Charles Gerrish, left, and council leadertim Warren