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Mayor says city set illegal budget

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Bristol City Council last year in effect set an illegal budget, its elected mayor has said.

Marvin Rees (Lab) made the claim at this month’s budget setting meeting, where he announced a third probe of the city’s management.

Former Audit Commission chief executive Steve Bundred has already completed two reports, one into the European Green Capital programme and the other into Bristol’s finances, in the latter of which he said “artful” officers misled councillors and then mayor George Ferguson (Bristol First) over the budget.

Mr Rees told the council last week: “I am announcing a further investigation to continue where Steve Bundred ended [looking at] how savings were posted in last year’s budget in knowledge they were not achievable to identify how those failings took place.

“It would appear officers knew these savings were not deliverable and kept this from members. In effect last year this chamber passed an illegal budget.”

The mayor said he would ask the Local Government Association to suggest a suitable investigator.

He said Bristol’s reputation in Whitehall “has been low for some time and we must convince government that the ‘can do’ attitude and strategic thinking needed is returning to Bristol and I believe that will open the opportunity for investment that has bypassed us.”

Mr Rees’ statement came as he presented what he called a “one year corrective budget separate from the medium term financial plan”.

The council approved a £364.7m net budget, including a 1.99% council tax increase with a further 3% rise for adult social care and savings of £39.4m.

Over the coming five years the council has identified £62m of savings towards a gap of £104m.

Mr Ferguson, who lost last May’s election to Mr Rees, told LGC: “I am assured Mr Bundred does not point his finger at me in his report. Any attempt to lay this at my door is a transparent political move for which I have absolutely no time or respect.

“I was not invited to give evidence to the [Bundred] review and had no idea it was taking place, which says everything. I am proud of having invested to save, leaving the city in a far sounder position than I found it, whilst maintaining and improving services in the face of relentless opposition from some Labour party politicians who clearly could not bear an independent being elected mayor.”

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