Toilets set to close and new car park charges loom in council savings programme
Public toilets are likely to close, charges are to be brought in at free car parks and a city centre art gallery, and the number of council meetings could be cut by 40 per cent in a new round of local government savings in Bath.
Bath and North East Somerset Council is expecting to make £30 million of savings over the next three years, with nearly a third of this involving frontline services.
Up to 200 jobs are also likely to go as the council reels from a 28 per cent reduction in Government funding and the spiralling cost of services for older people and problem families.
B&NES is looking at the potential of:
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* closing 15 out of the area’s 29 public toilets, saving £120,000 in the year 2014/15, and, according to the council, allowing greater investment in the remaining ones.
* axing bank holiday rubbish collections
* bringing in charges at the Victoria Art Gallery next year, in a move that, with other changes, would generate £50,000 a year
* stopping some pest control services, and reducing spending on environmental health checks such as food safety inspections by up to £263,000
* transferring the day to day running of allotments to the voluntary sector
* bringing in parking charges at shoppers’ car parks in Larkhall and other areas of B&NES which are currently free, generating £300,000 a year
* reducing the number of mobile libraries from two to one
* putting up garden waste collection fees
* reducing spending on Christmas lights by £11,000, and on tourism marketing activities by £200,000 a year
* cutting the number of council meetings by 40 per cent, saving £107,000 a year, with the number of full council meetings reduced from seven a year to four, and the number of watchdog scrutiny panel meetings slashed from 40 to 12.
* axing the production of plants at the council’s in-house horticultural nursery at Royal Victoria Park.
The authority - which spends around £230 million a year - is also mooting a voluntary tourism levy, which it says could bring in £500,000 a year, and which it stresses would be introduced only after “widespread consultation”.
Among the pressures on its purse strings is an astonishing statistic - that 220 families cost the council and other public sector agencies such as the police and NHS between £250,000 and £300,000 each because of their complex social care needs, adding up to a total bill of up to £66 million. The council says: “Joining up services between agencies supporting such families is becoming a national and local priority.”
The council says: “In light of rising demand for our services, higher costs, and public expenditure cuts that are unparalleled since the Second World War, the council is making financial efficiencies in the way in which day-to-day services are run to help protect priority frontline services as much as we can. The council is very clear that it looks first at doing things differently before considering frontline service reductions.”
B&NES says its priorities in deciding on possible cutbacks have been to keep bills as low as possible, to invest in the future with projects to promote new jobs, homes, and opportunities for local people, and to protect frontline services as much as it can.
It has stressed that programmes such as the expansion of park and ride services, new road schemes such as taking through traffic out of Widcombe, and the restoration of Victoria Bridge will still go ahead.
There are also no plans to cut street cleaning, and existing car park charges will be frozen.
B&NES said it had already saved millions of pounds on back office efficiencies, such as better use of IT and its website, and bringing services together at its one-stop shops, and was looking to make even more money out of its commercial estate of leased shops and offices. It says it is confident that most of the job savings can be made without compulsory redundancies.
Opposition Conservatives say the Lib Dem-run authority does not have a proper three-year plan, and is making optimistic assumptions about inflation.
The ideas will be discussed by scrutiny panels before going to the council’s ruling cabinet and then to a final budget-setting meeting on February 19.
People can express their views on the budget options via www.bathnes.gov.uk/budgetview or write to B&NES at Resources Team, 3rd Floor, Guildhall, Bath, BA1 5AW.