As the council announces its budget for the coming year, and the good news that council tax will be frozen, MIKE BENKE looks at the potential cuts in store in years to come

COUNCIL tax for Swindon residents will remain frozen at its current level for another year, but more cuts on the horizon mean years of pain ahead.

At a cabinet meeting next week, members will be recommended to keep council tax it at its current level, which will mean there will have been no rise for five years.

But there is also a warning that the council is facing a huge budget shortfall of more than £70 million in the coming years, which will mean cuts to frontline services are inevitable.

If the decision is made to freeze the tax, the council will receive a Government grant of £861,000 – equivalent to a one per cent rise.

Council leader David Renard (Con, Haydon Wick) said: “As Conservatives we come from the position taxation should be as low as possible because money is better in people’s pocket.

“We all know that times are hard for people at the minute so that is why we are pleased to be able to freeze council taxes for a fifth consecutive year.

“For freezing council tax we are given a contribution from the Government worth one per cent.

“We are only able to raise council tax by 1.9 per cent so the difference is not all that great.”

It is anticipated that regardless of the Government in power after the General Election, funding to local authorities will continue to fall, while demand for children and adult services continues to rise.

Some services the council have a legal obligation to provide, but there is a risk of further cuts.

This year has seen the introduction of a green waste charge, the leasing of leisure services and the announcement of seven children’s centres closures.

In addition, 500 council employees have been made redundant in recent years.

“The budget we are presenting covers the 15/16 period so there will be no more immediate cuts within that time frame, and then we will have to see what any new Government does but it’s going to be a challenge,” said Coun Renard.

“Speaking to people of any Party at all levels no one is expecting things to improve in the coming years.

“Some councils are already talking about not being able to meet their statutory requirements.

“It’s going to be a case of looking at every area and making savings where we can with the minimum impact.

“We could do with some clarification in some areas.

If you take libraries for example, we are obliged to provide a town-wide service but some authorities have been taken to court and lost because it was decided their proposals didn’t meet this requirement.”

The opposition has welcomed the tax freeze but fear the financial situation means it will have to go up eventually.

Labour Leader Coun Jim Grant (Lab, Rodbourne Cheney) said: “Given the cost of living challenges many Swindon families are facing, particularly low paid families, I support the proposed counciltax freeze.

“However, moving forward the council does need to consider whether continuing to freeze council tax year after year is sustainable.

“We have already seen services for residents cut back to such an extent that neighbourhoods are not as clean and tidy as they once were.

“And without the necessary money available, these service cutbacks will only increase.”