COUNCIL tax is likely to increase by 3.99 per cent a year until 2020 as local authorities across the UK continue to face unprecedented budget challenges.

With central government funding reducing almost entirely by 2020, Swindon Borough Council finds itself needing to save £48m over the next three years.

On Wednesday, cabinet members will be asked to approve the first draft budget proposals for the 2017/18 financial year.

The proposals include putting core borough council tax up by the maximum 1.99 per cent that is permitted without the need to hold a referendum.

There will be a further two per cent increase on top of that – with the additional money being ring fenced for spending on adult social care as part of an initiative introduced by the government last year in an effort to plug the funding gap.

The same 3.99 per cent increase has been factored in to calculations for the following two years as well.

Households in areas that are currently unparished can also expect to pay a parish precept for the first time next year while those in existing parishes are likely to pay more as a result of the transfer of services.

Councillors will be asked to approve the one-off funding of those new parish councils to the tune of £3m to be used for reserves and set-up costs.

£500,000 will also be earmarked as transitional funding for any community libraries established as a result of the borough-wide restructure.

The council needs to save £20m in the 2017/18 financial year but the planned council tax increase only accounts for £3m of that.

At this stage there are proposals to find around two thirds of the remaining £17m in savings required with further ideas needed between now and the final budget round in February.

The plans include a desire to save £3m from the adult care budget through efficiencies and £0.8 million from closing libraries and commercialising other community services.

Some £2.6m will be saved by transferring local services to parishes, £3m from developing council-owned land and a further £1.3m as a result of internal council efficiency restructuring.

All council services will increase in price by five per cent and by more where the law and market forces allow.

For instance, green bin collection will go up by 25 per cent from £40 to £50 per year.

In-year forecasts for the current financial year suggest that achieving the required level of savings is far from straight forward - an overspend of £4.9m is expected based on current estimations.

Even if the 2017/18 savings targets are achieved, the council must still find £16m of reductions in 2018/19 and £12m in 2019/20.

  • Comment - the Advertiser's view

THE announcement that Swindon borough’s council tax is likely to increase by 3.99 percent a year until 2020 comes as little surprise to anybody who has followed the relevant local news stories.

Many local people, however, will be wondering with good cause precisely what they are paying for.

In recent years we have been treated to the grisly spectacle of the borough council hacking ruthlessly at a huge range of services. 

Almost without exception, the victims of those cuts have been people already dealt a poor hand in life.

This process has now reached perhaps its ultimate stage, with a slew of basic services about to be hived off to parish councils in a process the people of this borough have been given no meaningful chance to challenge.

Only certain core services will remain in borough council control, and those core services are themselves being pared to the bone and beyond. 

It is worth remembering, of course, that none of this would be happening were it not for Whitehall’s insistence on reducing local government funding almost entirely.

Nevertheless, we are all entitled to ask the borough administration why it has met these strictures with barely a whisper of protest on behalf of the people it is supposed to represent and defend.

We are also entitled to ask whether, in view of the borough council being eviscerated of so many responsibilities, there should be a huge clear-out of councillors and senior officials.

It is not as if we can afford to pay salaries and allowances to people with a lot less to do.