By John Wimperis, Local Democracy Reporter: Bath and North East Somerset Council voted to pass their budget last night — while four different protests went on outside.
The budget was agreed in a three hour meeting of the full council held in the council chamber in Bath’s Guildhall on January 21.
Councillors arriving at the meeting were met with four different protests on the steps of the Guildhall, as people from across the city and district turned out to make their voices heard.
Regular users of the 82 bus came from Paulton to ask the council to save their bus and the other local government-supported buses in North East Somerset which are being cut in April and June.
Tom Churchill drives the 82 and brought the group to Bath to protest the cutting of the bus. He said “It’s going to leave people isolated. We are going to fight for it.”
Regular passenger Marion Harrington, 89, added: “And he’s a wonderful driver.”
She gets the 82 three or four times a week and said: “It’s my lifeline to get out, and my independence.”
Paulton Labour councillor Liz Hardman added that the cuts affected more than just Paulton. She said: “It’s ranging from the Chew Valley to across North East Somerset.”
Meanwhile, some people from Bath came to protest against the city centre security scheme — dubbed the “ring of steel” — and accessibility for people with disabilities.
Mark Stricklin said: “The Conservatives are protesting […] the ring of steel and the ridiculous £7.4m, which could pay for a city-wide school bus network.”
Two more groups of protestors gathered outside the Guildhall to say no — and yes — to low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs).
Many of the protestors against LTNs waved the “Take Back Democracy” placards that were handed out at the campaign meeting against LTNs hosted by the Together Declaration organisation on February 2.
Caroline Horsford, a Bath local campaigning against LTNs, said that more and more people were opposed to them, of all politics. She said: “It’s also cutting across class.
“I know people on the Royal Crescent who are fed up with this.”
But the group’s chants turned into a few shouts of “Scab!” and “Antifa!” when a small group turned up with a large banner reading: “Bath residents support LTNs.”
Holding one end of the banner was Dave Ware, who said: “I just wanted to show the council that some people do support [LTNs] and their view isn’t the only view in Bath.”
Although the two groups disagreed with each other, they were able to keep in time with their opposing chants of “Say no to LTNs” and “Say yes to LTNs” — until chants of “Save our buses!” took over.
Inside the Guildhall, councillors voted to pass the budget in a three hour meeting.
Council cabinet member for resources Richard Samuel told the council: “Each and every year since 2019 we have balanced the books and invested soundly in the services that residents told us they valued the most. ”
In a vote that went straight down party lines, the budget passed with a block vote of approval from Liberal Democrat councillors. But all other parties voted against, with the Labour group voting against, rather than their usual practice of abstaining, in protest over the bus cuts.
The budget will see council tax go up by the maximum amount local councils can raise it without holding a referendum: a rise of 4.99%, of which two percentage points are ring fenced for spending on adult social care.
Alison Born, the council’s cabinet member for adult services, said they had “no choice” but to apply the precept. She said: “The additional 61p per week per household that is generated by the precept will help to provide the funding we need to maintain services, to invest in our staff and to meet the increasingly complex needs of many of our clients.”
Mr Samuel said it was sad to have to raise council tax, but with inflation over 10% this was “real-terms cut in the value of the income we receive.”
He added that the council had supported over 9,000 people with council tax support in the current year, and would be expanding the eligibility criteria to support more people.
But leader of the Conservative group on the council Vic Pritchard criticised the Liberal Democrat’s handling of the council’s finances, in particular the spending on the city centre security measures and the decision to give Bathampton Meadows to the National Trust for free.
He said: “The National Trust were very keen to acquire this, so I ask you: Why was it not used as a negotiating tool to increase the leasehold on the costume museum?”
The Fashion Museum was forced to leave its home in the Assembly Rooms in October after the National Trust, who own the building, activated the break clause in the lease.
Mr Pritchard added: “There was an opportunity there that was missed.”
Spokesperson for the independents on the council, Karen Walker, said: “We believe that, as a council, we need to get the right balance between climate emergency, business, and jobs, and communities. We do not believe this budget does this.”
Labour group leader Robin Moss criticised the Conservative government for the financial positions of local councils but hit out at the council too. He said: “The cut in bus services in rural [North East Somerset] and being transferred to Bath drives a coach and horses through any pretensions that this council has to be a leader on climate change.”
He added: “In previous years the Labour group has tended to abstain on the budget. I am afraid this year we will be voting against the budget with fairly heavy hearts because of the lack of funding for bus services in North East Somerset.”
Summing up, Mr Samuel said: “What I was really looking forward to tonight was hearing some clarity from the Conservative group about what they were going to do if they ran this council and I’m afraid I didn’t hear anything.”
He added that they could not stop the city centre security scheme if elected, insisting it was an “obligation on this council.”
This budget is the last of the current council term, with local elections for Bath and North East Somerset Council coming up on May 4.
For the first time, voters will need to show photo ID at the polling booth in order to vote. If you do not have a valid form of photo ID, you can get a Voter Authority Certificate here.
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