Whilst householders in an average band D property will see their monthly council tax bill increase by ?2.33, a 23 per cent cut in the budget to support voluntary organisations could force some to close.
Mike Bawden leader of Swindon Council said his Conservative group were responding to demands at last year's elections. "People made it very clear that they were fed up with big council tax rises. We pledged to keep council tax low if we got into power."
The 3 per cent or less rise was supported in a number of consultations carried out by the council before the cabinet decision, through the Swindon People's Voice panel, via the council's web site and printed questionnaires. The respondents did not want grant reductions to the voluntary sector – the least acceptable action in the paper and web site response. Nevertheless the cabinet went ahead with a ?252,000 cut to the council's ?1.2 million commitment to voluntary organisations.
Councillor Bawden thanked the people who had taken the time and trouble to give their views. "Setting the level for council tax is one of our hardest jobs. It really helps us to know what local people think." Social Services are still looking for ?50,000 savings which are likely to come from budgets set aside for two East Swindon family centres, which serve the poorest wards in the borough.
In another proposal, pensioners attending day care centres could be hit by a ?10 daily charge from April, having seen a rise from 65p to ?5 in October.
The cabinet accepted that crematoria and cemetery charges should only rise by inflation and that a proposed ?50,000 to the Artscape budget should not go ahead.
It also withdrew the threat of charging council workers for car parking, and promoted Gavin Jones, the director of cultural change, to deputy chief executive and gave him a ?22,000 pay rise.
Cabinet member for finance coun Nick Martin said the council had achieved ?10 million in economies and efficiency savings. At the same time he was pleased the council was able to direct ?5.5 million each to Education and Social Services.
The Labour opposition were quick to criticise the controlling group for pushing through cuts to voluntary organisations and a package of staff reductions, reduced opening times at council leisure facilities and increased charges on leisure services for Concession 2 Swindon card holders.
Labour Leader Coun David Nash said it was "disgusting" to see the council strike at the voluntary and community sector and warned that history could be repeated as the last time the Conservative group ran the council with a majority in the 1970s, it was forced to introduce a supplementary tax demand when budget calculations went wrong.
Paul Dixon of Voluntary Action Swindon said it was not clear yet where the ?252,000 funding cuts would fall. "Organisations in receipt of council grants are rigorously examined by officers and councillors to ensure they will deliver what the council wants and will provide value for money.
"The funding the council gives to groups provides excellent value for money as it enables them to draw in significant additional funding from other sources, like business, central government and Europe. This is lost to Swindon if the council won??t back its own organisations."
A voluntary organisation can be run by paid staff or volunteers. What makes it voluntary is that responsibility for the organisation is vested in a management committee who are unpaid.
Labour regained the Walcot seat from the Conservatives when West Swindon resident Peter Mallinson won a by-election in February. The Conservatives have an overall majority of 8, with 33 seats. Labour have 20 and the Liberal Democrats 5.