Swindon Council leader councillor David Renard writes:
The ever-popular musical Cabaret includes the song “Money makes the world go around.” It’s true. However much we might wish it had less influence on the decisions we all make, in the end it all comes down to what we can afford.
We are very well aware of this at the council, because while we try to make sure that the needs of local communities are paramount, we can’t ignore the financial realities. We have to have a balanced budget every year– there is no overdraft for us.
We face a particularly thorny problem, which is that our income is falling and demand for our services is going up. The biggest areas of demand are in adult care and children’s safeguarding, and the expectation is that the quality of those services should also be high.
Our ability to raise more money is limited. Central government is reducing its grants to councils as part of its wider, necessary goal of restoring responsibility to the nation’s public finances, and we have frozen Council Tax for five years to help residents enjoy more of their hard-earned pay.
To bridge the gap we have instead embarked on a huge programme of changes to the way the council commissions or provides services, most of which will not have been visible to you. We have also made the difficult choices to reintroduce charging for green waste, to refocus children’s centres on those areas with most need, to transfer almost all of our leisure services to a not-for-profit organisation, and to reduce our road repairs to the funding level provided by central government. Without these decisions, we would have had to make another £6m of savings or raise Council Tax by nearly 8 per cent.
We’ve saved £100m over the last seven years, but it goes on – we must find another £20m for 2016/17.
This inevitably means there will be more changes. If we transfer services to a not-for-profit organisation as we did with leisure, we have to accept that some of the things we used to get will not be provided, or will cost more, or will be delivered in a different way. If the council tries to tie any organisation’s hands too tightly in a contract, no one will want to do business with us.
I don’t think any of my 56 councillor colleagues want to be elected to make cuts. We all want to serve our wards and the borough to the best of our ability, but we have to be responsible and act within the law, which means that we will have to make savings. I appreciate that many people will be fearful of changes, but simply saying no, or demanding that everything be kept as it was, are not viable options.