Over half of the current cabinet for Bristol city council have announced they are standing down, with the Labour-run council continuing to spiral towards bankruptcy.
The current cabinet of nine Labour councillors, including mayor Marvin Rees will be disbanded after the local elections in May when the mayoral model is scrapped and a new committee system to run City Hall is introduced.
This week, however, four of the nine have announced that they will not be standing. With Rees’ position being scrapped, this means that five of the nine will not be seeking re-election.
The Bristol Post states that “the announcement last week by cabinet member Nicola Beech that she would not be standing again in 2024 in the Hillfields ward followed reports and announcements that cabinet members Craig Cheney and Helen Holland were stepping down at the next election. And in early August, the BBC reported that deputy mayor and St George West councillor Asher Craig would also no longer be standing.”
This has now been confirmed by Cllr Craig herself, who said she has ‘loved’ working with the community in her ward of St George West.
“It’s been an absolute pleasure to represent St George West since 2016. I’ve loved working with our community to make positive change, like securing funding for the Beehive Centre, the Community Centre, and for renovating the lake in St George’s Park,” Cllr Craig said.
There could, however, be a serious reason why the councillors are choosing to stand down, with one Bristol constituent telling VoteWatch: “They’re rats jumping off a sinking ship. There’s no money left – they Labour councillors have eaten through it all”.
Earlier this year, the council was officially warned that it is facing bankruptcy, partly due to the rising cost of Special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), but also due to a widely perceived overall mismanagement.
With regards to SEND, the Labour cabinet failed to carry out basic costings, going on to spend over £16m more than it had budgeted for. Added to previous overspend, it now has a total deficit of £42.5m with three years to reduce the amount.
Although councils are not legally allowed to outspend their budgets, parliament granted special permission for councils to run deficits in their schools budget until March 2026.
Council finance manager Angel Lai said: “There’s a risk to the local authority if we don’t turn the financial position around and we can’t afford it.
“We don’t have the reserves to cover the overspend as it is, let alone if the position keeps on deteriorating… it’s a huge financial risk to the local authority.”
She said if the council does nothing, when the statutory instrument ends the local council will run out of money.
“And if you run out of money… bankruptcy,” she added.
Earlier this month, Labour-run Birmingham City Council, the largest local authority in Europe, officially declared bankruptcy, with the finger of blame being pointed squarely at its councillors.
The council has previously issued a Section 114 notice that forbids all spending except from on necessities.
But while Labour councillors in Birmingham blamed the costly implementation of a new IT system, Bristol mayor Marvin Rees said that the nearby constituency was suffering from bankruptcy because of ‘incredible pressure’ placed on councils by the government, saying:
“Birmingham has been an incredibly important partner for us in Core Cities UK, they’ve been a very active city on the international stage as well, maintaining an office in Brussels throughout Brexit which is what we did as well, which was not just for the good of Birmingham, it’s for the good of the UK because while the national government is distancing itself from our European relationships, at a city level we’ve maintained those relationships. Let me say that as chair of Core Cities and leader of a UK core city, this is evidence of the incredible financial pressure that local government in general and cities in particular have been under for nearly 15 years now.”