Your Council tax has now been set. The Swindon Borough Council part will be going up 4% from April, after Council agreed the budget for 2016/17 last Thursday. We now know where we will be spending £134m of public money.
While the media coverage of the meeting might have given the impression that there was a huge political row, there was actually all-party agreement on over 97% of how the Administration proposed to spend public money in 2016/17. That there was such agreement is testimony to the hard work and professionalism of the Council’s officers along with the diligence of my Cabinet Member colleagues.
It is worth looking more at the areas where we did have disagreement because it tells residents about two different approaches towards running the Council.
One option would have been to make short-term decisions to keep a few services going in their current state in the hope that circumstances will improve in the future. In this budget, that would have meant using the government’s two-year transition grant to fund ongoing services. There may be times when this is the correct approach, such as when the Council is facing short-term challenges. However, that is not the position in which we find ourselves.
We know that central government will continue to reduce our income in the form of the grants we receive. Difficult as this is, this is necessary to restore the nation’s public finances.
At the same time, we know that the pressure on Council services will continue to rise. Most of this comes under the label “demographic demand”. We have a growing number of elderly residents who require support to live in their own homes or to recover after a period in hospital. We also have a rising number of children in the borough, which means we have to keep spending money building or expanding schools. At the same time, we also have to look after the most vulnerable children in our society.
Along with protecting public health and looking after those with learning difficulties, all these essential activities account for 70% of the entire budget.
Given all this, the Cabinet and now the Council have decided to take a long-term approach to the budget because it best meets our immediate challenges, while still securing the best options for our future.
That is why we have decided to see what services we can make sustainable or self-sufficient such as the library service, Lydiard Park and House or any of the many services the Council currently provides. It is the best approach for the future and its realities.