All council-owned car parks in South Gloucestershire are currently free but that looks set to change – and there is a furious row about who is to blame.
The Lib-Dem Labour team now at the helm of South Gloucestershire Council say they can confirm that parking charges were included in the previous Conservative administration’s budget.
The Cabinet Member for Communities and Local Place, Labour councillor Leigh Ingham, said she wanted residents to be “under no illusion” about where the charges had come from.
It comes after the release of papers going to next Thursday’s Cabinet meeting which mention a consultation on parking fees.
Cllr Ingham said. “If we have to bring these Conservative parking charges in, we want to do it as fairly as possible, which is why we’ll be talking to residents and listening to their views on the right way forward.”
Cllr Jayne Stansfield, Lib Dem Lead Member for Communities and Local Place, said: “We want to listen to the views of local residents and businesses as to how we can best implement the Conservative charges, so that they don’t impact badly on our town centres. Times are very hard for everyone.”
But the Conservative group leader Cllr Sam Bromiley responded saying: “The budget approved by council in February did not seek to introduce car parking charges in South Gloucestershire – that is a fact. The Conservative group has never attempted, nor even desired, to introduce parking charges.
“The budget contained a review of some potential income-generating schemes, with the aim of identifying other opportunities to raise income without passing charges onto residents.
“Earlier this month, and as reported by the Bristol Post, the Labour Group was forced to issue a formal apology after a Cabinet member had been caught spreading lies about the previous Conservative administration.
“Sadly, this week they have yet again resorted to underhand and deceitful behaviour, telling outright lies in order to score cheap political points.
“We urge members of the Lib Dem-Labour coalition to retract these false claims, apologise for deliberately misleading residents and conduct themselves in a manner more suited to the holders of elected office. Residents deserve better.”
In a joint statement following Cllr Bromiley’s statement, the Labour and Lib Dem administration said that on page 113 of the previous administration’s budget, an income generation of £2m per annum is mentioned.
“While council officers have advised us they were working to introduce car parking charges, if the Conservative group now have an alternative way to do this, we look forward to learning about their £2m-a-year money-making scheme during the upcoming budget-setting process.”
‘Incredibly difficult’ choices ahead
In a news release today South Gloucestershire Council said the Cabinet will be considering proposals for next year’s budget that include details of ‘incredibly difficult’ decisions to reduce spending and increase charges.
It says: “The new draft budget, which will be subject to formal public consultation in the autumn, does not propose to make new savings, but does provide details of cost-cutting that was approved in the budget in February, prior to the election earlier this year, which are now due to be implemented in the coming years.
“Since that budget was agreed, the financial situation for South Gloucestershire and other councils across England has deteriorated further, by a predicted £3m next year (2024/25) and £2m in 2025/26. This will place further stress on the council’s budget and force the authority to consider additional savings if new money is not provided by Government.”
In the news release council co-leaders, Cllr Claire Young and Cllr Ian Boulton, say they are want the upcoming consultation to be “meaningful and constructive”, but agree that the details of the pre-agreed savings and revenue-generating targets will be frustrating for many residents to hear about.
Cllr Young said: “We are going to be able to balance our budget for the coming year, but not without taking some incredibly difficult decisions that will affect much-loved and relied-upon services. We do have choices ahead, but none of them will be easy. The reality is that councils across the country are badly underfunded by Central Government, who seem content to pass the responsibility for increasing amounts of services onto local authorities without the money to pay for them, and to blame councils for increasing council taxes to balance the books.
“In recent years, the council has been able to do this by using its reserves and making efficiencies, but these decisions have been known about and pushed into the future. Well, the future has arrived and we are having to face up to this challenge. We want to do that together and find a path through it alongside local people.”
Cllr Boulton added: “Our residents need our help and support now. We need to be there for them, whether it’s providing social care for children or older people, making sure our schools provide the best possible education, or ensuring our transport system is fit for purpose. And we will be there for them, but we have no choice now but to confront the challenges head-on. The choices we make as a council in doing that will be crucial, even if they may include having to look at doing things that we don’t want to do.
“We will have to prioritise, and that’s why we want to talk to and hear from residents during the consultations to come, about how they want us to act on their behalf.
“In the meantime, we will continue to make the case to Government for significant increases to the funding they provide to councils, because the burden cannot be allowed to continue to keep falling on our residents.”