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Ballot result threatens 180 jobs in Bristol

Voters in Bristol have opted for a council tax freeze, even though it could mean the possible loss of 180 teachers.

The city now faces a pound;4 million cut from its education budget following the results of a ground-breaking referendum. Just over half of those who voted asked for the freeze even though the ballot paper set out the possible consequences: the loss of 180 teaching jobs or 210 teaching assistants or a freeze on school repairs.

Turnout for the referendum was 40 per cent so only 21.6 per cent of all Bristol taxpayers opted for no rise.

Electoral experts warned that the Bristol result could lead to an increase in similar ballots over local spending decisions. Bristol's schools' budgets will have to bear the brunt of the cuts because the council is committed to pound;1.25m central spending if it is to stay in Excellence in Cities, the Government's drive to raise standards in inner cities.

Richard Riddell, director of education, has written to schools warning them to prepare for budget cuts as consultationfor August redundancies would have to start after half-term.

Mr Riddell warned heads that they face a cut of 1.6 per cent this year. He said: "This level of cut could threaten some of the exciting developments in Bristol taking place in primary, secondary and special schools, including Excellence in Cities, at a crucial time in their development."

Critics accused the council of mishandling the referendum by warning specifically of education cuts instead of wider damage to services.

Around one in five of Bristol's secondary pupils is in private education. Others are sent to neighbouring authorities' schools. In the referendum of the city's 278,000 taxpayers, only 18 per cent backed the council's preferred option of a 4 per cent tax increase, which would have effectively meant a standstill budget after inflation was taken into account.

Bristol currently funds its schools generously, spending 12 per cent above the Government expectation. Councillors will set the budget on March 6.

Leader, 16

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