By Rachel Gardner / email@example.com
Bristol’s Labour and Tory groups have told council leaders they do not approve of plans for new taxes on city businesses to fund its controversial bendy-bus scheme.
Both groups submitted statements to the ruling Liberal Democrat cabinet voicing their disapproval of plans to use the new taxes on businesses to help meet a £42-million shortfall in the scheme.
Labour councillors claim the taxes could damage Bristol’s recovery from recession, while the Tories say it would “cripple” the local economy.
The cabinet will chose to either impose a levy, which would see firms charged £1 per day for every car parking space they provide for staff, or a rise in business rates.
A report written by cabinet transport councillor Tim Kent was approved by the cabinet last Thursday evening.
It recommended that a steering group, involving “significant business representation” be created to oversee further investigation of both money-raising options.
It also recommended that Bristol City Council itself contributes £5 million towards the scheme.
Many members of the cabinet spoke of their support for the bendy-bus scheme which would see three routes built: the £50-million Ashton Vale to Temple Meads station, the £102-million north fringe to Hengrove package, and the £45-million south Bristol link.
But members said they were disappointed that those from Bristol’s other political parties on the council were not more supportive.
Tory councillor Chris Windows (Henbury) told the cabinet: “I and my group wish to object most strongly to this latest attempt to cripple the local economy.
“We do need investment to improve our transport infrastructure but this should not be at the expense of our local economy.
“The solution to this city’s transport problems will not be found aboard a bendy-bus – we should be looking at other possibilities. I believe that investment in rail would be along the right lines.”
A Labour statement to the cabinet claimed the new taxes “could damage Bristol’s recovery from recession – harming our ability to both create and attract new jobs and investment”.
It added: “They are blunt instruments to raise revenue. They are potentially toxic to Bristol’s economic health.”
Cabinet member Gary Hopkins said: “This city and the surrounding areas have suffered through lack of investment in transport. We have Conservative councillors trying to drive away investment in this city.
“We have had irresponsible politics in the past – people not prepared to make decisions.”
Deputy council leader Simon Cook said: “I am extremely disappointed at the stance of the other parties. We would have hoped for a degree of political unity to support the overhaul of the city’s transport system.
“All we get is criticism of our schemes to raise local revenue but no ideas from them about what they’d do.”
Council leader Barbara Janke said councillors needed to put politics aside and ‘come together’ as a council. “This is the only opportunity we are going to get,” she said.
“There is no opportunity to get funding for trains or trams in Bristol at this time.
“If we don’t go for this now we will not get this money from the Government.
“The Lib Dems want to seize this opportunity.
“I hope at the end of the day every party on this council will get behind this scheme.”
If the council goes down the route of a parking levy it would affect 300 business in the city centre. If the levy was introduced businesses affected would have to decide whether to pass the cost down to their employees.
If the council chooses to increase business rates it would only affect premises valued at over £50,000.
Overall the scheme will cost more than £200 million.
The bulk of the cash will come from a £120-million Government grant which the council has put in a bid for. The authority will find out if the bid has been successful in December but still has to convince the Government it has a financially sound scheme.