Category Archives: Bristol City Council

Posts relating to Bristol City Council

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:

Bristol Council Cabinet Review – July 2011

The 5 minute guide to the Bristol City Council Cabinet Business, 21st July 2011.  See bottom of the post for Crowdsourcing Opportunities.

Agenda Items

5. RAPID TRANSIT MAJOR TRANSPORT SCHEME BIDS: ASHTON VALE TO TEMPLE MEADS AND CITY CENTRE BUS RAPID TRANSIT SCHEME; NORTH FRINGE TO HENGROVE PACKAGE, AND SOUTH BRISTOL LINK

Toward the end of 2010,  the UK’s Coalition government came it with a new plan to cut the national debt and make Britain’s society more economically viable, by raising taxes in real terms and continuing to spend recklessly on grandiose infrastructure projects. This was called the Spending Review Settlement. Don’t quite understand how it works, myself, but then I’m just a mathematician, not an economist.

Bristol’s  latest request for a chunk of money on the never-never is to fund three Bus Rapid Transit schemes. Less politically sensitive than previous efforts to run a bus down the Railway Path, these capital projects should be completed about half an hour before internet-based homeworking and new-cottage industries render them obsolete.

Using my standard public sector modelling tool, which predicts that a capital project which has cost elements removed during funding negotiations will end up costing the original amount, plus 15% of the differential to put in all the things that were removed to save money in the first place, brace yourself for £200m of local taxes, or £200m of local borrowing in your name; profits from which will probably sort out decorations for the Xmas Party at the City’s banker. [Drinks bill paid separately from the Old Vic's Overdraft]. . Fingers-crossed, the NFHP project that miraculously halved in size during “value engineering” will be an exception that proves the rule.

6. RESIDENTS PARKING SCHEME UPDATE Ward: citywide

Well, I have to admit it’s pretty cushy being able to park on the street outside my house. Screw the rest of you. Having successfully priced Nurses, Paramedics and Cleaners off the road, the Council is keen to keep up momentum:

[13.] The Council is aware that many other communities close to the city centre are experiencing parking problems that are comparable to those that existed in Kingsdown prior to the introduction of the scheme.

[14.] Indeed, since the Kingsdown scheme has been in operation, a number of requests have been received for the consideration of similar arrangements to be put in place in other local communities. An initial assessment has been carried out of potential RPS areas.

Prisoner’s Dilemma anyone?

Live in the Kingsdown Parking Zone? Want to make some friends in the local community? Buy an extra book of Daily Parking Scratchcards and send them to Bristol Royal Infirmary’s Accident and Emergency Ward. The address is “Accident and Emergency Department, Lower Maudlin Street. Bristol. BS1 2LX”

7. STRUCTURAL APPRAISAL OF TRENCHARD STREET MULTI STOREY CAR PARK AND OPTIONS FOR REPAIRS AND FUTURE LIFE CARE PLAN Ward: citywide

A £1m punt to keep the Trenchard Street Parking structure barely operational, but it’s still likely to smell of piss all the time. £250k from reserve, the rest from that helpful man at the bank.

Just sell the damn thing. It’s bonkers that the City Council is in a position to both prevent people from parking on the streets in an area, and make money running a parking facility in the same area. While waiting for a sale, consider that Trenchard is ugly but functional concrete behemoth. Rather than tarting it up and paying for constantly failing barriers and dodgy payment machines, you could pay a few local lads to stand at the front and sell tickets. And then maybe it wouldn’t smell of piss.

Sell it. It’s a money pit.

8. SCHOOL ORGANISATION STRATEGY Ward:citywide

There’s no easy answer to providing every parent with a nearby Primary School place for their child. Apart from smaller schools, less centralised bureaucracy, fewer half-arsed pedagogical interventions, and more emphasis on parental responsibility generally in education.

For next year’s school spaces shortages crisis, rest assured there will have been meetings, biscuits, flow charts, bar charts, wall charts and possibly even a consultation. So buy your kid a nice, stout pair of walking shoes and an A-Z. The British Police are unlikely to arrest you for doing this.

Parental guidance: the “Statutory walking distance” below which you’re expected to sort out your own kid’s transport is two miles for
children aged under eight, and three miles for children aged eight and over.

9. REVIEW OF DENOMINATIONAL TRANSPORT POLICY ARRANGEMENTS IN BRISTOLWard: citywide

Bristol spends £6.6m annually transporting 3,102 children to school as part of its statutory duty under the relevant Act of parliament. But a third of that wasn’t statutory after all; it was discretionary.

Historically, Bristol City Council has used its discretionary powers to provide free home to school travel to any child baptised into the Faith  of their nearest appropriate Voluntary Aided Church school

Hold on a second. There are 38 weeks in a state school year; call it 190 days ignoring bank holidays, strikes and the like. That’s £11.20 a day per pupil for transport. Even First Bus aren’t charging that much.

So, that’s a couple of million saved. Job’s a good’un. If this review turns into an actual recommendation…

The likelihood of that happening will depend on pragmatic political calculus. Since  ”[O]ver 88% of respondents to the consultation did not agree with the proposal to withdraw free denominational travel support “, even now somewhere in four different political party offices, someone is comparing these two maps. The left is the people who sent in complaints; the right is ward councillors.

 

 

 

10. COMMUNITY INVESTMENT STRATEGY 2012-15 Ward: citywide

S.2 Local Government Act 2000 gives the council a general power to do anything which it considers is likely to promote or improve the economic, social or environmental well-being of the area. This includes the allocation of  community/voluntary funding where no specific legal power exists

The Community Investment Budget is a Council slush fund for transferring cash to the politically well-connected members of the Voluntary and Charitable Sector, who always work not-for-profit but never not-for-salary-and-benefits.

This round of funding, there’s a cool £1million per annum up for grabs. The shibboleth is Bristol Green Capital. If you’ve failed to toe the party line, then don’t even bother submitting an application.

11. FIRST REVENUE BUDGET MONITOR 2011/12 Ward: citywide

Two months into the Council’s financial year, and the city is £4.8m over budget.

12. FIRST CAPITAL MONITOR 2011/12 Ward: citywide

More money from Whitehall for miscellaneous navel gazing. Another £700k of local money to stop Bridge Valley Road collapsing.

PART C: OTHER KEY DECISIONS TO BE DETERMINED:

13. ASHLEY DOWN ROAD – HIGHWAY IMPROVEMENT WORKS Ward: Ashley, Bishopston

£900k of works, paid for by S.106 bribes developer contributions to infrastructure costs.

PART D: NON-KEY DECISION / INFORMATION ITEMS:

14. WASTE SERVICES PROCUREMENT – PREFERRED BIDDER Ward: citywide

New rubbish and recycling contractor: http://www.maygurney.co.uk/

Back when the tenders were floating about, the estimated value of the contract was £20m, of which 10% would be earned from selling dry recyclates. Both the last and the current government continue the political class’ love affair with kerbside recycling, and since it’s now law (EPA s.45A) [with some wiggle room] that at least two recyclates must be separately collected, it will be interesting to see whether the new contractors maintain the economically unviable food waste, paper and cardboard collection, or concentrate on metals, plastics and batteries.

15. YOUR LIFE, YOUR COMMUNITY – HEALTH AND SOCIAL CARE COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT Ward: citywide

After an intensive round of city-wide consultations, the Council has established that member of the local Voluntary and Charitable Sector prefer rich tea to bourbons. An Equalities Assessment is currently underway.

Crowd Sourcing Opportunities

Life is too short to spend it reading documents. (I mean my life, not yours). Help me out:

  • Work out which council wards would change hands at election if all the people who complained about not getting free transport voted against  the incumbent.

Third Sector Opportunities

Live in the Kingsdown Parking Zone? Buy an extra book of Daily Parking Scratchcards and send them to Bristol Royal Infirmary’s Accident and Emergency Department. The address is “Accident and Emergency Department, Lower Maudlin Street. Bristol. BS1 2LX”

Bristol Council Cabinet Review – June 2011

The 5 minute guide to Bristol City Council Cabinet Business 27 June 2011. See bottom of the post for Crowdsourcing Opportunities

Agenda Items:

5. FINANCE & PERFORMANCE OUTTURN 2010-11

Last year the Council underspent by £3,100,000. So this year, they propose to keep the money “just in case (nudge, wink)” they overspend this year. £3.1m could be converted into a £23 reduction in Council Tax for a Band D property.

6. CAPITAL OUTTURN 2010/11

The Council spent £26.6m less on capital programmes than planned. One would think this would be grounds for promotions all round, but actually it’s not the done thing in the public sector; “slippage” as it is known is much worse than overspend, as money that hasn’t been spent yet is always at risk of being taken away from departmental budgets.

A reasonable chunk of the slippage looks it will never need to be spent, thus hopefully the city’s external debt (money borrowed by the council that you have to pay back) will be reported as dropping rapidly.

7. TREASURY MANAGEMENT ANNUAL REPORT 2010/11

The Council still reckons it can get our money back from Iceland (£8m). A recent legal judgement in Iceland has given British local authority debt “Priority Status”. This means that if a bankrupt Icelandic Bank with no assets owes millions to hundreds of organisations, the dozen of so “Priority” creditors get repaid first, after the taxman, the banking regulators, the liquidators, the lawyers and any protected staff pension schemes.

Hypothetically then, instead of getting 0.05% of nothing, Bristol as a priority creditor near the front of the alphabet might get 0.1% of nothing. I wonder how much the Council spent with  Bevan Brittan on filing legal papers.

8. KEY ARTS PROVIDERS 2012-2015

A summary of the hoops that need to be jumped through if you want a bit of the Council’s £2.5m budget for social community arts or whatever the current buzz phrase is; should you require any training in jumping through hoops, Bristol has a number of Circus Skills consultants who can assist.

The 2009/11 Key Arts Providers (yep, the usual suspects) are listed here.

9. BRISTOL SCHOOLS PROPOSING TO CONVERT TO ACADEMIES

An Academy is a compromise solution for schools, in which they are not maintained by Local Authorities, but neither are they independent. It’s a more complicated approach to purchasing state education than just giving parents a voucher for education which they can spend where they like, or for that matter just buying education with actual money like most British parents would do if they could afford it.

From the perspective of the swivel chairs in the control room at the Local Education Authority, Academies are awful things because the LEA can do chuff all to them. No guidance notes, no diversity statements, no equalities assessments, no carbon neutrality assessment, no health & safety posters, no memos, no cover sheets, not even a TPS report. This is clearly a problem, and in the absence of any actual means to compel Academies to kow-tow to the Council House, the new plan is a Partnership Agreement. Officers note:

There are risks that an increase  in the number of academies could fragment and splinter the school system in ways that could foster competition rather than collaboration.  The Partnership Agreement is designed to ameliorate the risk of this occurring in Bristol

Which, frankly, is rather the point; competition amongst service providers (schools) raises standards because customers (parents) can take their business (children) elsewhere.

So, if you’re a school governor, or a parent, and your school is converting to an academy, make sure you let the headmaster and the senior management know that you expect them to do the best they can for your child, and that they should tell the LEA to stick their Partnership Agreement in the nearest recycling box.

Crowd Sourcing Opportunities:

Life is too short to spend it reading documents. (I mean my life, not yours). Help me out:

  1. Looking for suspicious slippage in Appendix D of the Capital Outturn
  2. Read the Partnership Statement: Education in Bristol, find something dodgy
  3. Look at the current list of Key Arts Providers. Find their Charities Commission records (because they’re probably all charities) and identify what percentage of their annual income is derived from state subsidy as opposed to voluntary donations.

Leave a comment if you find anything.