Trying to stay positive amid budget-setting challenges

By Barrie Hudson - 23 February 2024


Swindon Borough Council Leader Cllr Jim Robbins writes for Swindon Link

I want to start with a huge thank you to all of the residents who attended the Let’s Talk Swindon events. 

They were some of the best and most positive conversations I’ve had with residents in all of my time at the council. It was amazing to see the sessions get fully booked and listen to lots of great conversations about how people want to see Swindon develop. 

The hard work starts now for the council as we bring together all of the ideas in those conversations into a coherent plan for the council that sets out how we can deliver them. We won’t be able to do all of the actions that we want to do straight away, because of the massive financial challenges facing the council, but we will keep records of those good ideas not in the first draft and get to them when we can. 

We’ll be releasing an update on the feedback and keeping residents informed at the March Cabinet meeting.

Setting the budget this year has been a long and pretty demoralising process, as we sought to deal with the massive £10m in-year overspend that we inherited when we took over control of the council as well as the gap of £27m in next year’s budget. 

I’m delighted that we have got the in-year overspend down to around £600k which has taken the huge hard work of officers to really limit spending and find ways to work more efficiently. We have also managed to reduce the gap in next year’s budget down to around £5m. 

This work means that the council is able to continue operating, not a given when so many other councils are declaring themselves effectively bankrupt, and we will be able to start to deliver the plan. 

It can’t be overstated how damaging the Conservatives' years of austerity have been to council services and how hard it is to balance the budget when inflation has been out of control since Liz Truss’s time in office and the country is in recession. 

It has been really hard to cut services without them having a huge impact on residents and organisations in the town. 

Despite the tricky financial challenges, I’m desperate to keep the positivity flowing in the town. I was delighted to open iCAST, the Innovation Centre for Applied Sustainable Technology, and is a partnership between the University of Oxford and the University of Bath, funded by Research England.

Setting up an innovation centre in Brunel’s Carriage Works in Swindon felt like exactly the sort of message we want to put out: Swindon is a place that celebrates and cherishes its heritage, whilst being firmly focused on the future and using research to support business to thrive and meet the challenges of the day!

I’m determined to find more opportunities for excellent collaborative projects like this to work in Swindon. 

We need to capture the spirit of excellent events in the town such as the Festival of Tomorrow that recently ran so successfully, and use it to really put Swindon on the map as somewhere that is starting to change and develop.

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