End to free parking as council sets budget

Council tax in South Gloucestershire will increase by 4.99 per cent from April after councillors approved next year’s budget.

Parking charges are now set to be introduced to many council car parks across the district, which are currently free. The changes are intended to raise £1.5 million a year for the cash-stricken council.

Fees for having a garden waste bin collected will also double, from £30 to £60, to help balance the books. The budget for the next financial year, which begins this April, was passed by a majority vote during a full council meeting on Wednesday, February 21.

The council voted for a 4.99 per cent rise, the maximum permitted without calling a referendum. Two per cent of the money raised will be spent meeting the continually rising costs of providing adult social care.

The decision means that the South Gloucestershire Council element of a council tax bill for an average Band D property will be £1839.54. Additional precepts are charged by town and parish councils, the Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner, and the Avon Fire Authority, which are set by those bodies and are itemised separately on the bills that householders will receive from the council.

Councillor Claire Young, the Liberal Democrat council leader, told the meeting: “There have been significant financial challenges facing the council and the wider local government sector. There’s been a woeful lack of funding from the Conservative government in Westminster, and this has led to us making some difficult decisions.

“Despite the challenges thrown at us, we are delivering on our twin goals of action on the cost of living and climate crises for the people of South Gloucestershire. This budget prioritises the wellbeing of people in need, aiming to provide essential cost-of-living support while upholding crucial services and taking decisive action against the climate and nature emergencies.”

She added the council was planning to invest in sports activities for secondary schools, energy efficiency measures to cut heating bills, and free meal vouchers for pupils during school holidays.

Co-leader Cllr Ian Boulton, Labour, added: “We are prioritising the issues that local people have told us are important. We are doing everything we can to minimise the impact of reduced funding from Government in real terms and the ongoing challenges that residents are facing through rising costs.”

This is the first budget put forward by the new Liberal Democrat-Labour coalition, following the election last year.
Conservative opposition councillors criticised the financial plan, as many people responding to a public consultation opposed the parking charges and higher fees for garden waste bins. They urged the coalition leaders to find ways to save money in the council’s budget elsewhere.

Cllr Samuel Bromiley, leader of the Conservative group, said: “The reality of this budget is clear: new and increased charges heaped on residents; a complete failure to identify new efficiency savings; proposed investments that have been poorly thought through; and a clear message to local people that their views matter not one iota.

“Your priorities are wrong and you’ve tried to cover yourselves in the smokescreen of blaming national government, but residents can see through this. They’ve told us that they don’t want parking charges, but parking charges are what they’ll get. They’ve said they don’t want to pay higher fees for green waste, but higher fees are what they’ll get too.”

By Alex Seabrook, Local Democracy Reporting Service