Voscur’s response to Bristol budget consultation
Next week is your last chance to submit your response to Bristol City Council's consultation on its budget. The deadline for responses is midnight on Monday 17 of December. We've published our response below in advance of submitting it to give Bristol's VCSE sector the opportunity to comment and contribute.
Government austerity has continued to result in cuts to local authority services across Bristol. This loss of services has the greatest impact on the most vulnerable in society – people in poverty, single parents, people with disabilities and the elderly are amongst those who bear the brunt of austerity.
At the same time factors such as the increasing cost of living mean that the need for such services continues to grow. Meeting these needs has fallen to families, communities and the emergency services.
This combination has forced the voluntary sector to fill in public service gaps and pick up the pieces where support has been withdrawn. Because of this our members are less able to offer the deep and effective services that add value to society and are instead providing a form of social ‘fire-fighting’.
A recent report by the UN Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights states that the cost of responding to those in crisis due to loss of services outweighs the money saved from withdrawing them.
Based on this context, Voscur’s answers to the consultation questions are set out below, following two important conditions:
- Council tax is a relatively regressive system that in its current form reinforces the pressures that are increasing inequality across the country, instead of progressively raising revenue from property values. In this sense, it is not the best way of compensating for a policy of austerity, nor empowering the voluntary sector to provide more preventative services that save public expenditure in the long-term.
- All of the additional council tax revenue should be invested into schools and early intervention. It should not be subsumed back into council operating budgets, overheads or plugging other financial gaps. In some areas, the council has made great strides in changing its internal culture, embracing new ways of working and opening up its policymaking to co-production from other stakeholders across the city. In other areas there is still progress to be made and additional council tax revenue from citizens should not be used to mitigate these issues.
With this in mind, Voscur is keen to support the following response to the consultation questions:
1. Which of the following Council Tax options would you prefer next year?
Voscur supports the consultation option for a full 4% increase in council tax. We believe that this will be better value for tax payers and communities than the cost that would be incurred from not making such an investment. The council must ensure that those people that cannot afford the increase are aware of their right to claim a council tax discount. Council tax bands do not necessarily reflect people’s ability to pay and the trade-off described above cannot come at the cost of pushing people into poverty.
We approve of the council’s open and constructive approach to this issue and would welcome the opportunity to provide further input.
2. If you selected Option CT5 – a 4% increase in Council Tax, would you like us spend the extra £2m on day-to-day services or on the council’s capital programme, or on schools or public health activities?
We believe that the additional funding should be spent on the schools budget. Earlier this year a high court ruling saw Bristol City Council forced to reverse its budget cuts for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. Some of the money for this reversal came from the schools budget. Education is vital as it will help ensure a good quality of life for future generations. Furthermore, schools are a support touchpoint for children and families across the city. City Funds is a good example of this, as schools have a role to play in all three focus areas: No child goes hungry, inclusive employment and community initiatives.