Labour Group poised to challenge Swindon Tory cabinet cuts

Swindon Advertiser: Council chief Rod Bluh Council chief Rod Bluh

SWINDON Council’s Conservative cabinet will meet tonight to recommend for approval its final budget proposals, which aim to plug an estimated £16m gap in 2013/14.

In December, the cabinet revealed its draft budget proposals, which set out how it intended to deal with £4.7m in assumed reduced funding, £3.5m in inflation and £7.9m of other cost pressures, including increased demand for services.

The document, which went out to public consultation, outlined £13.2m of savings, with an estimated £3.1m budget gap to be closed through more savings which the council has spent the last few weeks identifying.

However, a report on the final budget proposals, to be discussed at cabinet tonight, reveals that the gap has since grown to about £5m.

This is due to Government funding being £1.3m less than provisionally announced, and £1.05m of extra costs, alongside an assumed £450,000 increase in business rate income.

The new proposals include £3.4m savings from cutting jobs – up from the figure of just more than £2m in December, when just 70 council posts were threatened.

The threatened posts are not identified or quantified in the latest document, but Councillor Rod Bluh, the council leader, told the Adver earlier this month that at least 50 more posts could go.

The proposals assume the full council, which meets on February 21 to approve the final budget, will freeze council tax in return for a two-year Government grant equivalent to the income raised from a one per cent council tax rise.

Coun Bluh said the proposals were aimed to promote economic development and protect the most vulnerable.

“It’s very easy for an opposition to criticise anything an administration does because they don’t have the problem of having to make the decision in the first place,” he said.“If they want to challenge what we’re doing, it’s incumbent on them to put forward their own budget to show how they would have arrived at the answer they’ve arrived at, and not just pick one or two items.”

The Labour Group said it would seek to amend the Conservative’s proposals at the budget meeting on February 21.

Coun Jim Grant, the Labour Group leader, said: “The Labour group will be amending the Tories’ budget proposals and we will be seeking to eradicate the wasteful spending still happening in the council, despite the ongoing budget cuts.

“Labour’s amendment is still in the process of being agreed, but I can confirm that it will involve substantial sums of money being cut back on senior management and consultants, and redirected towards frontline services.

“Residents can expect services like Dial a Ride and children’s centres protected, while also seeing greater investments in addressing Swindon’s potholes problem.”

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