WHILE Swindon continues to face huge challenges because of changes in government funding and a growing, ageing population, at the same time we will continue to look for ways to improve services. That means we will have to invest, a word which some think of simply as meaning more debt. This would be a simplistic view that does not give the true picture.
A good example of how the Council has invested money to help our long-term future is our new £8m RDF plant at Waterside. RDF means refuse derived fuel, which we can sell. This new facility will help reduce the amount of rubbish we send to landfill by up to 95%, which is better for the environment and means we have to pay less landfill tax.
It also helps us make money because it pulls out metals that are suitable for recycling that are in the general waste.
I am delighted that George Eustace MP, the Minister for the Natural Environment, Water and Rural Affairs, is planning to be in Swindon today to conduct the official opening of the plant. I am confident that the money we have invested will prove, to use the cliché, that where there’s muck there’s brass. Already we have cut the cost of getting rid of a tonne of rubbish by nearly two thirds and we are confident that we will soon be making a profit.
Yet, while collecting waste and disposing it is a universal Council service, we must not forget that most of the Council’s budget – over half your Council Tax – goes on caring for the elderly, pictured right, and vulnerable children. This is five times what we spend on collecting and getting rid of rubbish.
As I have stated in previous columns, we cannot underestimate the size of the financial challenge we face. In order to find a further £54m of savings in the next three years, in addition to the £70m of savings we found in the last five, without putting any vital services at risk, we need to change how the Council operates almost beyond recognition.
That is why, with our officer team, we are using a variety of “invest to save schemes”, some of which require additional funding at the start, or specialist support to make them work.
Where we can achieve savings ahead of time, we are doing so, but many of these are one-off savings. Some people may look at what is there and go on a spending spree. This Administration has chosen to invest this one-off money in supporting the long-term changes that the Council needs to make, and in specific, one-off projects that will bring significant benefits. We have a positive vision of Swindon’s next successes, and we are investing in that.