Conservative-run South Gloucestershire Council has forced the Mayor of the West of England Combined Authority to rethink his controversial budget proposals.
At Friday’s WECA meeting (27 Jan), at which Labour Mayor Dan Norris presented his budget for 2023/24, the Conservative Leader of South Gloucestershire Council, Cllr Toby Savage, obtained a promise from the Mayor that a proportion of funds earmarked to expand WECA’s corporate functions could instead be directed towards public services.
Dan Norris’ budget initially proposed increasing the number of full time staff at WECA by 36% while also increasing spending on the combined authority’s policy and strategy functions by 217%.
This amounted to an overall increase in the WECA staff budget of a staggering £8 million, at the same time as bus services across the region are being lost.
Spending £8 million on more staff over the next financial year would come on top on this year’s forking out of £8 million on lavish new offices in the city centre of Bristol, instead of using surplus office space belonging to South Gloucestershire Council.
But after appeals by three local councils (B&NES Bristol and South Glos), the WECA Mayor instead agreed to set aside £800,000 of the £8 million increase in the staffing budget for key frontline services, such as buses.
Cllr Toby Savage, Conservative Leader of South Gloucestershire Council, who opposed the WECA Mayor’s original budget proposals, said: “Before today’s meeting began, it was clear that the WECA Mayor’s spending priorities were completely skewed, favouring corporate largesse over supporting residents live happier, more independent lives.
“While local authorities across the country are having to implement recruitment freezes, WECA was proposing to take on a colossal amount of extra staff that would not be directly involved in delivering vital services. This would have come hot on the heels of splurging £8 million of public money on luxury new offices.
“Following appeals from me and my neighbouring council colleagues, I am pleased that the WECA Mayor has agreed to redirect a portion of funding earmarked for recruitment to where it is needed most – frontline services like buses.
“As the public transport authority for our area, WECA must continue to prioritise buses over bureaucracy, and South Gloucestershire Council will continue to press them on this.”