Local charities will not face a “cliff edge,” councillors on Bath and North East Somerset Council have insisted as they passed a budget that spread proposed cuts to charities over two years.

As voted through by a full council meeting last night (February 20), the 2024/25 budget — described by council leader Kevin Guy (Bathavon North, Liberal Democrat) as “not just balanced but boldly ambitious” — will see £5.8m more spent on social care, a £5m investment into council house building, and £2m of income from Bath’s clean air zone spent on a new “Scholar’s Way” cycle route in the south of Bath.

Council cabinet member for resources Mark Elliott (Lansdown, Liberal Democrats) told the meeting: “This is a budget this Lib Dem administration and everyone involved in the budget setting process […] can be proud of. Despite the unprecedented wider crisis in local government funding, it provides stability, it protects the most vulnerable, and it delivers on our promises to residents.”

But the council came under fire for ending free parking in Midsomer Norton and Radstock in the budget, and for telling local charities over Christmas that it would cut £802k from their funding to help the most vulnerable. Charities warned the move would push more people into rough sleeping and would end up costing the council more in the long run as more people would need to rely on statutory social care services.

Now the planned cut has been spread over two years, with a £400k cut to happen this year, and a further £402k to be cut in 2025/26. Mr Elliott said: “We have talked to them. We have agreed to spread the cost. We have agreed to deal with them directly and talk to them and negotiate with them.

“There is no cliff edge cut in their spending.”

Mr Elliott said that he had given guarantees to the charities and organisations that the council would carry out a systematic review “with them” and not impose things on them. He added: “We are also not in the business of shooting ourselves in the foot.

“Where services can be shown to be saving the council money by preventing people calling on council-run services, those services will obviously not be cut. If it turns out that the savings we’ve proposed really aren’t achievable when assessed in that way, then so-be-it.

“But we spend over £9m on over 40 contracts in this space, and they haven’t been looked at for quite some time, so it seems reasonable to think that some savings can be made.”

Kate Morton, CEO of mental health charity Bath Mind, said: “At least we’ve got two years.”

She said she was reassured by the commitment that had been given, although added: “But we need to hold them to that. We need to hold them to account.”