Category Archives: Bristol

Posts relating to the City of Bristol, United Kindgom

Referenda on Council Tax

UK legislation (Localism Act 2011) provides for a local referendum if a local authority proposes an “excessive” Council Tax increase. For the 2013-14 financial year, the principles state that billing authorities may not raise their council tax by more than 2% without holding a referendum. So – and you’ve got to laugh – near enough every council in the country has proposed a 1.99% increase this year.

It looks like public servants are getting comfortable with the Time Value of money and the effect of economic incentives. Central Government – for reasons that are unclear – intends to continue the questionable Council Tax Freeze Grant system, which in previous years offered a 2.5% payout for a zero increase in Council Tax. This year, the offer is 2% of last year’s budget over 2 years. But 1.99% over 1 year and therefore 4.04% over 2 years if the trend continues seems more palatable to Mayors and councillors than a potential 2%.

In Bristol, the last £4.5 million from the 2011/12 freeze grant is included in this year’s [2013/14] budget. This is 2.5% of required annual funding, so you should anticipate some entertainment – possibly tap dancing – from the Mayor and company when it comes time to do the 2014/15 budget.

An interesting situation will arise if the party or coalition in power after 2015 does in fact schedule a national referendum on EU membership. If I were a local councillor or Mayor who wanted to get a stonking great Council Tax increase past the Localism Act, I’d be planning to present a referendum-triggering budget. I would then wait for the government of that day – and it doesn’t really matter which party is in control – to ponder the effect on turnout when two simultaneous questions are being asked:

  1. Would you like to pay an extra 100 quid of council tax? and by the way
  2. Do you want to stay in the European Union?

No doubt a more generous scheme for Freeze Grants or similar neatly wrapped bundles of other people’s money would magically appear.

Useful link for broke Mayors:

Academies in Bristol – School Reform and Job Cuts. What’s not to like?

[Note – front page of the UK parliament’s website is currently broken. This link works.]

The Academies Bill [Latest Draft] is on the final stretch in parliament, and seems likely to pass before the summer recess. The blurb is:

Academies are all-ability state funded schools. They have sponsors from a wide range of backgrounds, including universities and colleges, educational trusts, charities, the business sector and faith communities.

The big difference with (new) Academies is that they are entirely removed from Local Authority oversight (they are not “maintained”). Now my usual working theory is that life will be a lot easier for everyone if we get rid of as many layers of government bureaucracy as possible, starting at the centre. This Bill concerns itself with the middle-men at the Local Authorities, whereas I would have opted for a massive reduction in head count amongst the mandarins at the Department for Education (no longer the “Department for children, schools and families” and properly capitalised).

Will this legislation improve state education in Bristol, or indeed Britain? Not for a few years, no. This new legal status won’t magically solve the three major problems of parental indifference, weak senior management teams and teachers motivated more by ideology than idealism. But it’s a start, and once passed the Act will remove most of the obligations on a school to adhere to the National Curriculum, and create some opportunities for cost savings in Local Government.

Cuts in Local Government: break out the Chaumet Sparkling Perry (£1 at Lidl)

Since Academies will not be maintained, they will be funded directly by a grant (per pupil) from central government, I believe the affect on Councils will be a reduction in the council’s Dedicated Schools Grant, and probably the Area Based Grant and its share of National Non-Domestic [Business] Rates by the time some of the other marginal programmes have been cleared out.

As soon as this Bill becomes an Act of parliament, the theory is that all schools currently deemed “outstanding” by Ofsted will automatically be able to tell their Local Authority to get stuffed, thus – again, in theory – the process could start as early as September/October 2010 after parliament returns.

There is a slight fly in the appointment: none of Bristol’s existing maintained secondary schools have an outstanding ratings; only the Voluntary Aided School St Bede’s Catholic College manages that.

  • Total number of state secondary schools in BCC area: 20 (see here)
  • Total number of BCC maintained schools and existing academies: 20 (see here)
  • Number of maintained secondary schools with “Outstanding” ratings: ZERO (via Ofsted)

Which is pretty amazing when you look at the numbers involved:

But if we look at Primary Schools as well:

  • Total number of state primary schools in BCC area: 138 (see here)
  • Number of maintained secondary schools with “Outstanding” ratings: 9 (via Trym Tales)

then we’re in business. Taking 6.5% of schools out of LEA control is a reasonable basis for a headcount cut of say… 5% as a starter? Rounding up, let’s say 30 Full Time Equivalent LEA Staff.

As to what affect this will have on Bristol Council’s £400m annual budget (yes, really, £400 million, and that doesn’t count the running costs of the schools), my guess would be a reduction of around £8-10 million in the dedicated schools grant. A 30-person cull within CYPS could potentially bolster this with a £750,000 cut in Council Tax next year. That’s only about £5 for each tax paying household, but it’s better than a kick in the teeth.

Add in a few non-job holders like the Enrichment Coordination team (£57k), the Playing for Success Scheme (£50k), the Business Partnership Manager (£62k), the Drugs Coordinator team (£149k), the 14-19 Advisor consulting contract (£159k), the EMAS service (£35k), and cheaper biscuits for the SACRE meetings (£17k) then suddenly you’ve got a fairly decent set of cuts; maybe an easy £10 off a typical Band D council tax bill.

Local Note

The recently deflowered Charlotte Leslie MP (Coalition, Bristol North West) has got herself a place on the Education Select Committee, so she’ll no doubt be front and centre with subsequent Academies legislation.