Page last updated at 13:11 GMT, Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Council budgets under pressure

Paul Barltrop
Political Editor - BBC West

Householders in the Bristol area are facing an increase in their council tax bills as the economic downturn hits local authority budgets.

Finance officers say that income is down and costs are up as they draw up spending plans for 2009/10.

Bristol City Council had hoped to keep its increase to 3.5% but is facing pressures no one predicted.

Planning applications have also fallen as the building industry slows down meaning less income for local councils.

Bristol City Council still has £8m stranded in Icelandic bank accounts - and the return on investments elsewhere has fallen sharply as interest rates have come down.

'Reducing costs'

North Somerset councillors have said they do not get the funding they need from the government. Conservative council leader, Nigel Ashton, is to meet a government minister in January.

But there is little expectation of an increase in funding. So already the authority in North Somerset is planning cuts and price rises.

The amount of money available to buy new library books will be reduced by a third. Parking charges in Weston-super-Mare, Clevedon and Nailsea are to go up sharply.

Phil Hall, finance director for North Somerset council, said: "We will continue to review all our activity with the view of reducing costs further."

The authority, as well as neighbouring South Gloucestershire and Bath and North East Somerset councils, have also rejected a government-backed scheme to allow all children to swim for free.

Ministers had offered extra funding - but councillors rejected this, complaining that it was not enough, and would have further hit their finances.

Exactly how much council tax bills are to rise will be decided when the authorities set their budgets in early 2009.

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