Protecting the most vulnerable in Bristol

This is a letter sent in December 2016 by Karin Smyth MP to Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees in response to the city council’s Corporate Strategy consultation

Dear Marvin

Bristol City Council Corporate Strategy 2017 – 2022

I am writing to you following the publication of the Bristol City Council Corporate Strategy and the ongoing associated consultation. I welcome the opportunity to comment on these plans, I appreciate the honesty and transparency with which you have approached the very severe financial issues facing the Council. I hope that many residents of Bristol have taken the opportunities which you have made available, both online and in person, to comment on your detailed proposals.

You and your colleagues are facing some extremely difficult decisions in the coming months, seeking to cut £92 million in spending as a result of the inherited budgetary shortfall, increases in demand for services, and the huge cuts in government funding since 2010. As you are aware I am a member of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, and I quote below a section from its report on Financial Sustainability of Local Authorities, published in January 2015:

Over the period 2010–11 to 2015–16, central government will have reduced its funding for local authorities by 37% in real terms. This equates to a reduction of 25% in “spending power”, a measure of local authorities’ total income for services, taking into account not only government funding but also local council tax receipts.

We are seeing a huge level of government-imposed cuts, and you will know that I have challenged Tory councillors and Bristol’s Tory MP, Charlotte Leslie, to use any influence they have to press Theresa May to provide more money, I trust you will be doing the same. Sadly they have, to date, remained silent.

There can be no doubt that responsibility for the scale of cuts forced upon our city lies squarely with the Tory government in Westminster.

However, as the city’s elected local representatives it is of course our collective responsibility to ensure Bristol emerges from the implementation of these cuts in a way which most closely aligns with our Labour values.

As you will know my constituents have higher rates of ill health and disability than other parts of the city, more of my constituents receive Tax Credits, Personal Independence Payment and Employment and Support Allowance than elsewhere. Almost half of the most deprived neighbourhoods in the city are in Bristol South, two of these in the Hartcliffe area are ranked in the 100 most deprived in all of England.

This means my constituents have already been hit hard by national government decisions, including the Welfare Reform Act 2012 and the recent Welfare Reform & Work Act 2016. They also have a far greater reliance on services provided through Bristol City Council, including social services, housing and other support.

There is also a high reliance amongst my constituents on public transport, especially buses, and I know there are real fears that potential cuts to subsidised and community bus services will lead to genuine difficulties in accessing health facilities and employment.

What my constituents need now is to understand what services they can expect from the Council in the coming years as you look to make these savings by 2022. Last week’s Government announcement on social care will bring further pressure and will not reduce the anxiety felt by many families over the level of care they will receive in the future. Whilst I greatly appreciate the work that has been undertaken so far, and that to date some significant savings have been identified for the entire period of the Corporate Strategy, it is my understanding that they do not currently meet the shortfall in first year of the medium term financial plan.

My constituents need clarity from you, so that together we can all have confidence in our city’s future. They need to know as soon as possible from where the remaining millions will be found, therefore I would be most grateful if you could share your latest thoughts on this with me.

I want to offer you my full support as you endeavour to protect the most vulnerable people in Bristol, many of whom live in the Bristol South constituency. If there is anything I can do to assist you, either in Bristol or Westminster, please do not hesitate to ask.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely

Karin Smyth
Labour MP for Bristol South