City council budget balls (1)

Predictably, Bristol City Council are doing bugger-all for us as the credit crunch bites and talk of economic downturn turns to recession and even depression and we confront what’s looking like the worst economic situation since the Second World War.

For starters: is next year’s council budget released this week meant to be some sort of joke? Labour leader Helen Holland is proposing a 3.5% council tax rise to cover inflation.

Except inflation isn’t going to be 3.5% next year is it? The economy’s in a deflationary spiral. Inflation’s currently at 4.5%, having fallen from 5.2% in a month and this is set to continue. Very optimistic Bank of England inflation projections say it’s going to be 1% by 2010 although it’s likely to be less.

Then there’s the small issue of Helen Holland’s boss, Alistair Darling, recently cutting VAT to put more money in our pockets. Now Bristol City Council is going to grab it all back again. With a Council Tax rise averaging £50 a year, that’s our VAT savings on £2,000 worth of goods Holland, Ormondroyd and the rest of the useless gang are stealing from us.

And what’s all this extra money for? Nonsense like this:

£400,000 extra to market the city nationally and internationally to encourage more business investment and to provide residents with more information about local services.

Yes. They’re spending more bloody money on marketing and PR initiatives.

At any time this is a daft way for a council to spend money but promoting “business investment” in these economic conditions is absolutely barking. The only investors they’re likely to attract during a major global recession are corporate vultures buying cheap and in cash. This is basically a proposal to proactively sell off the city’s valuable assets to the lowest bidder.

Is this wise for the long term?

The man handed this huge, ill-defined £400k marketing slush fund to play around with and take trips abroad in the middle of a national economic emergency is none other than our brand new Deputy Chief Exec – that copper from Sheffield who doesn’t know where Easton is.

And out of interest, does anyone know why Bristol City Council has employed a copper to do marketing? Is this normal business practice or is this kind of utter lunacy only found in the the public sector?

Also, as part of next year’s budget process, our multi-million pound liability of a finance boss Carew Reynell has kindly produced a (very brief) briefing document – The recession – financial implications for BCC (pdf).

This insouciant, lightweight nonsense blandly observes – in the face of the economic blizzard surrounding us – that parking, land charge, social care and interest income might fall a bit over the next year and, er … that’s it!

Oddly Reynell forgets to mention anything about the £8m he lost investing in Icelandic banks this year and how that might affect us. Perhaps it slipped his mind?

However he does conclude his budgetary waffle with this:

The draft budget does not include specific provision for spending to mitigate the impact of the recession or for services that are likely to face increased demand

In other words the budget for next year doesn’t bother budgeting for the recession we’re going to be in next year. Jesus wept. It’s going to be fun in Bristol next year isn’t it?

Of course what Holland, Ormondroyd and that copper from Sheffield who doesn’t know where Easton is should be doing is implementing a slash and burn budget designed to cut council tax bills by between 5 and 10%.

Now’s the perfect time to cut out the dead wood. Dump the cycling officers, the sustainable development bureaucrats, the PRs, the glossy brochures, the equalities wonks and the rest of the expensive crap down at the Council House and put money in our pockets.

That’s what people who give a toss would do.

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31 Responses to City council budget balls (1)

  1. BristolPatriot says:

    Over £550,000 to help deliver a new 55-place Very Sheltered Housing
    (VSH) complex at Monks Park, north Bristol – and provide over 1060
    hours of extra care for older and disabled people. A further VSH
    scheme will also be built in Bishopsworth, south Bristol. # Strange this building work already in progress.#

    £300,000 to employ more staff in our customer services centres and
    improve the way we answer calls about housing and benefits services.# what a load of tosh #

    £470,000 to deliver more frequent and better quality grounds
    maintenance, grass cutting and shrub clearance programmes – and
    strengthen parks patrols across the city’s green and open spaces. # What a stupid waste of money the service is not bad as it is why waste more cutting grass a little more ?#


  2. Ella says:

    I say we make them WALK THE PLANK.

    Oh my God I’m like Joan of Arc for Bristol. From them Eastern e n d z.

  3. BristolPatriot says:

    Britons are looking to softer price pressures next year after a Bank of England survey showed a record fall in inflation expectations.

    The average inflation rate expected over the next year is 2.8 per cent, compared with 4.4 per cent in August – the biggest quarterly drop in the nine-year history of the Bank’s attitudes study.

    Ella. Why waste a plank of wood

  4. Ella says:

    Well talking of planks of wood, why don’t we use one of that lot as the plank, make the other walk off it and then push ’em in? 😀

  5. Sceptic says:

    Ella, Bristol Patriot

    Why not have the plank of wood running Bristol City Council? After all, it cannot do any worse than the present incumbents and it wouldn’t need paying either 😉

  6. SilentBob says:

    And the worst is that this financial crisis has the potential to be worse than most people realise. A cynic would wonder why the government is busy putting anti-terror laws in place, arming police with tazers etc right now. Would we be forewarned if the proverbial meteorite was about to hit? The worst case scenario.. well let’s just say the only way to prepare for that would be to start stocking canned goods now. Hopefully I am just worrying unnecessarily.

  7. A right Janker! says:

    Don’t worry it all be alright when Clifton’s finest (sorry Surrey’s finest) Councillor Barbara ‘call-me madam’ Janke takes over as Council leader from Helen ‘HRH’ Holland after the May elections. Babs was such a success last time wasn’t she?

  8. Gary Hopkins says:

    One area where promotion of the city abroad could produce dividends is in tourism. We are a great city to visit and with Brown/Darling showing all the financial acumen of Robert Mugabe on a bad day in protecting the value of our currency we should be a very cheap place for foreign tourists.
    By the way do not rely on low inflation for long. With the pound going the way that it is prices of imported goods will rise sharply but more people will be unable to afford to buy them.

  9. Bluebaldee says:

    How about clawing back some of the money that’s gone towards preparing our Transport Innovation Fund bid, with its attendant CONgestion charge?

    Surely after today’s result in the Manchester TIF referendum, there’s no point in proceeding…………………..unless of course BCC and WEP are planning not to afford the citizens of Bristol a similar exercise in local democracy.

    They wouldn’t do that, would they? Would they?

  10. CP says:

    OK Lemmings……..Let’s go!!!

  11. thebristolblogger says:

    I like this a lot from Sceptic:

    Why not have the plank of wood running Bristol City Council?

    Good idea. Anyone up for running a plank of wood in the local elections next year? More on this soon …

  12. Martyn Whitelock says:

    If the Council REALLY wanted to do something for the citizens of this city it could stump up the money for the Ashton Court Festival. This is a fantastic social event attended by families and people of all ages and ethnicities. It is one of the highlights of the year and attracts visitors to the city. That should tick a few boxes! It is something the Council owes a duty to its citizens to recognise, celebrate and support.

    However, it has arguably been ruined in recent years by the corporate sponsors and the inability to ‘process’ over our beloved suspension bridge and city icon.

    Cultural festivals such as this help develop social harmony and of course provide very necessary fun and entertainment. Ok, so there are the Balloon, St Pauls and Harbourside festivals but they offer very different experiences to Ashton Court, which, the latter, I suggest is as quintessentially part of Bristol citizens’ identity – certainly in terms of celebrating the local music scene.

    So, my point being, in times of hardship folk need entertainment to keep their spirits up… not more vain attempts to attract new business! Besides, we’ve already added to the mass of vacant office buildings (e.g. Castle Green) with an empty Imax & Wildwalk. It’s outrageous such buildings sit empty and redundant, aside from the homeless issue. This simply does not happen on the continent and structures are quickly converted to cafes or other public spaces, especially in Germany.

    Gary is right – “we are a great city to visit” and there are some great things to see and experience but don’t forget this can be communicated through a city’s citizenship as well as commercially through publicity and marketing channels. Bristol should celebrate what it has, not what it could be!

  13. Chris Hutt says:

    The greatness of Bristol (yes, even I acknowledge that it is one of the finest cities in Britain) is no thanks to the City Council.

    It is down to the energy, entreprise and imagination of the people (not always a good thing of course). But who would link ‘energy, entreprise and imagination’ with the council? They are the antithesis – apathetic, conventional and banal. Which would be fine if they’d just stick to the doing the basics – stuff like keeping the streets and parks clean.

    But they are suffering from the delusion that they are the ones who ‘run’ the city, just because they’ve nabbed themselves some cushy seats on the top table. Most of what they are actually supposed to be running is either chronically inefficient or totally deficient- take traffic and transport, as well as street cleaning, for example.

    So I endorse BB’s call for radical cutbacks in these straitened times, including all those so-called ‘cycling officers’ who are causing us cyclists so many problems with their misguided ‘Cycling City’ interventions.

  14. Tiberius Caesar says:

    Good idea Martinius Albas Claustrum. Bread and circuses – that should do it!

  15. BristolPatriot says:

    Sceptic / BB

    Let us not forget we already have a whole raft of DEAD WOOD in place ……… Lopping season is coming. We need fresh branches planting the seeds for our future.Dont we?

  16. ‘One area where promotion of the city abroad could produce dividends is in tourism.’

    We dont need £400,000 a year to do though do we?? What is this £400,000 for ‘marketing the city’ actually for? Surely better to spend this money on something of direct use? Or just cut the spending out altogether…

  17. Sceptic says:

    Bristol Patriot

    A plank of wood comes with the advantage that it is flat on top: that is to say level-headed, something that cannot be applied to the current shower down the Counts Louse.

  18. mcw says:

    Tourists are good so long as they’re the right sort who can pay to attend my chakra balancing courses

  19. BristolPatriot says:


    I cant argue with that can I!


    Do you do balancing for free? Theres a whole bunch that need some serious Chakra balancing down at yonder Council House

  20. MCW says:

    For free? Certainly not. In the case you mention, the council tax payer can contribute. That’s what they’re for after all, paying for people like me to do good works.

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  23. Steve Stevens says:

    As far as I can tell from my reading of the figures, most of the extra money is going on supporting the elderly and disabled – around £3.8m. Don’t you agree with redistribution (cos that’s what it is) Or are you lot members of George Osborne’s gang in disguise? Low-tax, small-state Tories?

  24. Sceptic says:

    @Steve Stevens:

    A lot of the people commenting here don’t do party politics: they’re too grown up for that 😉

    However, in my 3 decades of residence I’ve always found Bristol City Council has charged champagne prices and provided a beer service: and this has without exception been true of administrations of all political shades.

    If the council spent less on its pet projects and feeding the CONsultants, there (probably) would not be a budget shortfall in the coming financial year.

  25. Dona Qixota says:

    “You lot”??? LOL

    I very doubt there’s two opinions the same in this place, Steve.

    The way it looks to me, our society has become seriously unsustainable in just about every possible way, beyond imagination, especially demographically.

    If you think the Bullingdon Club is hairy, you should try reading Prof Ian Angell’s “The New Barbarian Manifesto” for a horror. He foresees that all the computer whizzkids, business geniuses, “creatives” and variegated wonder boys and girls will take their miraculous money-spinning abilities off to gated “smart zones” and leave the rest of us “losers”; the awkward, the old, the disabled, the workless, the lumpenproletariat, to stew in our own juices plaguing the rump of the middle classes for whom the tax burden will become unbearable.

    Could all too easily happen … although the smart zoners would need to pay hefty taxes to a damn heavy Praetorian Guard instead!

  26. Steve Stevens says:

    Yes, but organising the spending of redistributed money is a necessary evil of redistributing it.

    You have to pay people to be in charge of the redistribution. You have to pay people to be on the front line of redistributing it.

    Any redistributive project, from humanitarian aid charities to Labour-led councils, will incur costs in redistributing.

    You can argue about the efficiency (or otherwise) of the mechanisms, and if anyone can find serious evidence of corruption and inefficiency then let’s hear it.

    But, do bear in mind that the Taxpayers Alliance and other Tory-affiliated groups have a very similar agenda. They claim all public spending is inefficient and try to suggest it’s all corrupt. Their ultimate aim is a small-state, low-tax, blow-you-Jack society.

    So, if the council project here is to redistribute, be careful about trying to take them down. The end result could be less redistribution.

    People who love markets and market solutions claim ‘efficiency’ as their greatest strength.

  27. Dona Qixota says:

    Who are you addressing, Steve?

    Personally, I don’t think local councils should be about “redistribution”, but about the bread and butter issues of our communal town life, like sensible transportation, essential public health measures and so on. But as I say, that’s just my opinion.

    You surely can’t say that BCC doesn’t waste huge amounts of money on stuff like fireworks and overpaid, uptitled bureaucrats, doing lots of trendy-sounding things?

    Btw, you haven’t adressed my point about the sheer unsustainability of the situation we have gotten ourselves into, and the danger of the withdrawal of consent to heavy taxation by increasing numbers of people.

  28. thebristolblogger says:


    Normally the word ‘redistibution’ is accompanied by the words ‘of wealth’.

    But you’re talking about using council tax – a regressive tax – as a redistributive mechanism.

    So you’re basically supporting redistribution of money from the poor to the poor. If you think that’s socialism or social democracy then your political and economic illiteracy marks you out as a member or supporter of the Bristol Labour Party.

    As for evidence of inefficiencies, there’s loads. There’s whole departments that are unnecessary for the functioning of this city – Equalities, Sustainable Development, Community Development, Arts, Regeneration, to name some.

    Then there’s this new strategic management function coming in at over £1m pa. That could be delivered for £200k .

    There’s also 30-50% too many middle managers at the council, as the Lib Dems have argued.

    As for the idea that those on the left should be in favour of this kind of bloated, poor quality government – what a load of rubbish.

    Efficient, high quality, low cost government is not just for the TPA and the Tories. It should be for us all.

  29. Gary Hopkins says:

    How typical that the only argument that Steve can come up with to support the staggeringly wasteful poor service provision of Bristol’s Labour council is “Vote for us as otherwise its the Tories”
    Leaving aside the fact that many of us have for some years found it difficuilt to distinguish between much of Nu- Labor and the Tories , that the Tories only real threat in Bristol is to continue as third party to support Labour and that in Bristol there has been a Lab/Con love in for some time this is a very depressing ,but all too familiar technique.
    The fundamental job of Bristol city council is to provide good quality services for it’s citizens . To do so efficiently it must provide good working conditions for its staff, and there is evidence that penny pinching in isolated departments has led to loss of decent front line staff.The necessity of providing a good job cannot though override its primary function.
    For many years this has been allowed to happen.
    The fact that services are poorer than other equivalent councils cannot be sensibly denied and is exposed in graphic form by the benchmarking reports produced by Price Waterhouse Cooper( yes some of the measurements are silly government irrelevancies but the main thrust is indisputable).
    A factor that should not be overlooked is the effect of government cappingcounil tax (first used as a major weapon by Mrs Thatcher but enthusiastically taken up by Gordon Brown).
    At first this looks like government doing the citizens a favour by restricting increase but in fact it perpetuates the relentless increase because any council brave enough to make a significant cut in its council tax is forever penalised as it is not allowed to recover the money by a larger increase should this be necessary to protect services in future years.
    Bristol is not out of line for it’s council tax rate (it is unreasonable and unfair everywhere) but it is out of line for pooer services(with some honourable exceptions)
    The contributor who said that stopping money being wasted on pet schemes has a valid point but it is only part of the story. It is the repeated failure over many years for BCC to face up to its responsibility that is the fundamental problem.

  30. Steve Stevens says:

    My point is that reading TBB comes across as a repeated and sustained attack on the very concept of local government, and the writer/s should be careful of this.

    I’m not a member or supporter of the Labour party, and I use the term ‘redistribution’ loosely. I mean simply the taking of tax revenues from those able to pay and the giving to those who are in need. That’s why the huge amount of extra money in this council budget going to adult and disabled care is redistributive – whether or not anyone other than me wants to use the word.

    I agree the current system of council tax is regressive and needs reform. I’m not entirely sure whether a local income tax is the answer, but that’s another debate entirely.

    I also agree with what everyone has said about it being possible to manage this process more efficiently, and of course TBB plays a role in highlighting ways to do this better. Keep up the good work in this respect.

    Mr Hopkins will of course claim he and his party have the policies and the desire to run the city more efficiently. If that’s true, let’s hope he gets the chance to do it again. He’s also right that local government has had its balls squeezed tighter and tighter by central government until all it is able to do is to squeak.

    However, my point still stands though, I think about the OP. It is that the OP is an attack on the specific spending plans put forward by the current administration for this year. However, it reads like a general attack on the concept of tax and redistribution. Much of TBB in fact reads like an attack on the very concept of local government.

    My point is that if TBB IS attacking the idea of local government itself, then do so and be open about it, admitting that all local control would go either to central government OR the market. If TBB is NOT supposed to be a sustained attack on the idea of local government, then stop writing it like it is.

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