One of the most important tasks we undertake each year is to produce the annual budget. This is an enormously complex activity, as we have to provide a wide range of statutory services, ensure that we continue to protect the most vulnerable in our society, and still pay for the changes we want to make in the Borough.
However, like most public bodies, we have seen a reduction in funding as part of the Government’s objective to reduce the national debt and national deficit. But, alongside the Council’s Budget reducing, demand for services is rising.
To respond to this, over the last decade we have changed where the money goes. In this current financial year, 2015-16, over 69% of the Council’s money is being spent on providing services to vulnerable adults and children (up from 48% in 2007-08). Since more people are living for longer with increasingly complex health needs, the Council is now spending a greater amount of its money on looking after people. We are proud to be able to help people in need, but recognise that most people do not directly receive these services. Many people think of the Council in terms of collecting waste and keeping the streets tidy, but as the figures above show, the majority of our money is spent helping vulnerable people with social care needs.
To produce the balanced budget we are looking to increase Council Tax by 1.94% as well as adding a further 2% to help manage the increased costs of Adult Social Care. We have avoided raising taxes for five years, but a freeze is no longer affordable.
Alongside this, we are considering some specific changes to a number of services. We are looking at different ways of providing services in the community such as libraries. We are also looking to improve the support to young children and mothers in their own homes by funding the health visitors and family nurses but no longer spending money on buildings. You can find all the information about the Council’s proposed budget on the website www.swindon.gov.uk. Just type “Budget 2016/17 consultation” in the search bar.
This does not mean we have put our Vision, Priorities and Pledges on hold. In fact, it shows that they are more important than ever. They will help grow the economy – to create more jobs and generate new income. They will take services closer to local people as we work with community groups and parish councils to identify new types of service provision less dependent on Council funding. In addition, we will build resilience, which will allow us to focus more preventative services to address social care issues before they arise and help more people to take care of themselves.
Although the situation is very challenging, I am determined that we will not allow it to divert us from the task of looking to secure Swindon’s future.