2010 Swindon Budget: Mark Edwards Budget Speech to Council

22/02/2010 – Mark Edwards Budget Speech to Council

Mr Mayor, fellow Councillors,

This is a budget that marks our final promotion from the bottom division of poor performing councils to the cusp of being in the premier league of England’s best.

It is a budget that protects vital public services for the elderly and the vulnerable.

It is a budget that protects local residents.

It is a budget that protects staff; with fewer redundancies than many other councils are proposing.

And, to spare you the tension of waiting, it is a budget that proposes a mere 1.8% average council tax increase. The lowest increase ever proposed in this chamber based on a fully costed and worked up budget.

We all know Swindon’s background, we all know about the unfair funding that has existed since this council became a unitary authority and the failure of any government or MP since then to redress this.

We know that our national economy has been forced into a longer, deeper decline than many neighbouring countries.

We are also faced with a government who persists in an agenda of devolving more activity and responsibility down to local councils without providing the funding to support it. Free personal care being the latest of these which we are going to have to fund from our limited resource.

Despite this, the Conservative administration, initially under Cllr Mike Bawden and now under Cllr Roderick Bluh has been working to increase standards and efficiency across all of our council’s activities.

This latest budget has been prepared against a background of unprecedented demographic pressure in Adult Social Care; it is worth noting the numbers since there are some in this chamber who appear not to have grasped them or their significance.

  • We have had a 9% increase in number of people over 65 between 2001 and 2008, for England the increase was only 6%.
  • As for the 75 and over, the increase was 15% for 2001 to 2008 (and 40% from 1991 to 2008.)

We cannot ignore these increases, and we have to work to support our elderly and vulnerable, and we have to do this with the limited resources available to this council.

Our budget has come from the 50 Promises, the Community Strategy, the views of the people of Swindon, the budget consultation process and engagement with residents. Councillors have had their opportunity to make their contribution too.

Some choose to do so productively on the issue of Dial-A-Ride; others chose to set hares running over Shopmobility.

We are now using a system of cash limits so that all officers have to think hard about how to get the most value for money for every pound of tax payer’s money, not just today, but a number of years into the future too.

Swindon Borough Council today has a proud record of achievement. We are a 3 star council. The independent Audit Commission rated the council as ‘performing well’ overall in its inspection just a few months ago – we are one of the most improved in the country.

On top of that, Ofsted inspectors gave a ‘good’ rating for our Safeguarding and Looked after Children’s services, and said our adoption service is ‘outstanding’. In fact, at this time we are one of the best, if not the best, in England for looking after our most vulnerable children.

Despite all we have achieved as an administration, we are faced with significantly increased costs resulting from demographic changes balanced against the economic downturn (compounded by the failure of this government to manage the country finances).

This has put extraordinary pressure on our budgets with our costs are going up whilst our income is dramatically reduced.

Had we sat on our hands and watched this happen, I would be coming to you today with a bill asking for an additional 11 and a half million pounds and a council tax increase around 15%. This in my opinion would be totally and utterly unacceptable.

Not an opinion shared I know on the opposition benches when they forced through inflation busting council tax increases of that level, not once but in consecutive occasions!

Shame on Labour.

The days of that Labour administration are gone and this council is now transforming. The robust and challenging process we have gone through this year has generated 10.6 million pounds of savings to add to the 45 million pounds of efficiency savings we have reported to central government since 2005.

In this budget you will see that we have done this, not at the expense of front line services, we have not taken a brutal and disingenuous look at our staff and cut numbers without thought or consideration of the consequence. Budget setting is not just about changing numbers on a spreadsheet.

We have instead, taken a strategic approach, we have set cash limits and we have set the wheels in motion that will support this council into the future.

Given this and the increase of only 1.8%, this achievement is nothing short of outstanding.

Mr Mayor, fellow councillors, in this budget you will see irrefutable evidence that we have a tight grip around the councils finances and will be delivering on our commitment for all Swindon, not just for today, but for years to come.

There are however risks in any budget; this year is no different. I do believe we have the right balance of risks to deliver a fair and affordable council tax to the people of Swindon, whilst looking to the future and the sustainability of this council.

The headline achievements in this budget are impressive.

An average council tax increase of 1.8% – amongst the lowest for any unitary authority outside London.

We are maintaining our reserves at £6m instead of £5m to cope with the ongoing impact of the economic downturn

We are providing specific contingency funds to cope with the increasing pressures on adult social care.

And we are working in partnership with other public sector agencies, such as the police and the PCT, to save costs and will continue to drive efficiency through cooperation.

Back in December we published the consultation budget. We listened to feedback and the “one”, I repeat “one” line in the budget that gave the people of Swindon real concern, I addressed swiftly and responsively.

I would like formally to thank the chief executive, directors and officers of this council, the Leader of the Council, Cabinet, members of FPAG, members of the Conservative Group, the business community, the people of Swindon, if fact all those who supported and challenged me in during the preparation of this budget for Swindon’s future.

I am aware that, this, a shrewd, strategic, forward thinking and robust budget will be more that some in this chamber can handle.

I am also aware of the open letter distributed by the Labour group last week regarding this budget.

Whilst I welcome the open challenge from the opposition, I am astonished at the proposals, and incredibly disappointed – the fact that the numbers simply do not add up!

Whilst their proposals may be useful for headlines in the press and on leaflets, they do nothing to drive the Borough of Swindon forward.

I can assure this chamber and residents of the Borough that there is only one genuine, thought out, strategic budget that will deliver for all of Swindon, from Inglesham to Barbury Castle and from the Acorn Bridge to Lydiard Park.

It is the Conservative budget I have tabled before you, and I commend this budget to the chamber.

Cllr Mark Edwards

February 22nd 2010

3 Comments to “2010 Swindon Budget: Mark Edwards Budget Speech to Council”

[...] before I deliver the latest dour news from Euclid street, why not take five minutes to re-read the 2010 budget speech given by Councillor Mark Edwards, (Swindon Borough Councils Lead member for finance), so you can properly discern the hard facts [...]

August 2nd, 2010

[...] Read Councillor Mark Edwards’ 2010 budget speech by clicking here. [...]

July 14th, 2010

[...] Read Councillor Mark Edwards’ 2010 budget speech by clicking here. [...]

July 14th, 2010