Last night Cabinet colleagues and I approved the Council’s draft budget for the forthcoming financial year.

As many readers will be aware, balancing the budget has become increasingly difficult in recent years as we have had to manage reductions in central government grants and increasing demand for adult social care and vulnerable children.

Demand for the services we provide to vulnerable children and those adults with social care needs is still going up and accounts for around 80 per cent of our budget.

This is why we agreed to recommend a council tax increase of 4.99 per cent, which includes a three per cent rise that can only be spent on adult social care.

The support we provide to thousands of vulnerable children and adults has never been more important, especially during the pandemic and I have been both humbled and inspired by the way in which our staff have maintained services, adapting to fast-moving events.

This week we received wonderful external validation of the work we are doing to look after and protect vulnerable children in the Borough from Ofsted.

Five inspectors carried out a week-long focused inspection of our Children’s Services department in December and, in their letter published this week, described our response to the pandemic as “comprehensive and timely”.

You may recall the department was rated as ‘Good’ by Ofsted in the summer of 2019, so to receive such positive feedback from the follow-up visit at such a difficult time was a real boost for the whole team.

The inspectors said we continued to provide an effective service and, while highlighting good practice among a number of teams including social workers, the theme of strong leadership shone through.

The team’s decision-making was described as timely and inspectors pointed out that appropriate actions are taken to protect vulnerable children. I was pleased to note that Ofsted recognised that

the needs of children and families are carefully considered and responded to during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our Corporate Director of Children’s Services, David Haley, was singled out for praise and I would like to thank him, his senior colleagues and amazing staff, as well as my Cabinet colleague Councillor Mary Martin, for continuing to do such a fantastic job.

Much of their work goes unseen, but I know their efforts make an incredible difference to children and young people in Swindon.

Over the next few weeks we will looking to bring some of this work to life through the council tax booklet sent to all residents and also through our social media channels.

As mentioned earlier in the column, most of the council tax you pay will be spent looking after children and adults who need our help. In my view, it is money well spent.