IF Swindon Borough Council gets it right over the next four years, the borough will have a strong economy and be greener, more sustainable, safer, fairer and healthier. It will also be growing and have well educated and skilled young people enjoying good heritage, cultural and leisure facilities.

That is the job that the Conservative-run cabinet has set itself in a new council plan which runs up until 2025.

It has six priorities, under which are 27 new pledges of individual actions it says it will achieve in the next four years.

The priorities are: build an economy that works for you; protect and enhance our heritage, culture and leisure facilities; deliver sustainable growth; equip all young people with the education and skills they need; make Swindon greener and more sustainable and to make Swindon safer, fairer and healthier.

Council leader David Renard said: “Swindon is just beginning its recovery from the most significant public health crisis to have faced the country in our lifetime. 

“Nearly 300 people in Swindon have sadly lost their lives to Covid-19, over 22,000 residents have had the disease and many more have suffered significant financial hardship due to the impact that restrictions – made necessary by Covid-19 – have had on our economy.

“Ensuring that residents can live healthy, productive lives supported by a vibrant and growing economy is the council’s reason for being and this plan outlines how we will do that in the next four years. 

“The next couple of years in particular are likely to be very difficult. Demand for services will go up while income from parking and fee-paying services will go down as the way that people choose to work evolves. We must therefore be especially focused on delivering those things that matter most for Swindon."

Under the six priorities come 27 more specific actions. 

As part of an economy that works for the people of Swindon, the council promises “every home will have access to a gigabit speed broadband connection by 2030” and “investment in our town centre to transform it into a vibrant commercial, retail and leisure destination which our residents will choose to visit during the day and into the evening”.

Under the heritage, culture and leisure priority the council pledges: “A sustainable future for our parks, and a four-year improvement plan for our larger parks, including Coate Water Park and Lydiard Park.”

The council says it will protect and make use of its historic assets and will secure funding for a new cultural quarter and adds: “In the meantime we will ensure all residents have access to cultural activities.”

Sustainable growth will be delivered by “investment in the road network” and the council “will continue our war on potholes to ensure highways are safe, and do all we can to improve our roads and car parks.
Hundreds more homes will be enabled and built, including some by the council’s own housing company.

Regarding young people and education the council has set itself a stiff target, saying: “We will ensure that every child and young person in Swindon has a place at a good or better Early Years provider, school and/or education placement or apprenticeship provision.”

To make Swindon greener the council pledges “a greener waste strategy which reduces residual waste and increases recycling.” and will reduce fly-tipping.

Under its last priority, a safer, healthier fairer town there are 10 pledges including renewing the military covenant, the promotion of healthier lifestyles and volunteering and a reduction in violence and crime, and homelessness and rough sleeping.

While the plan has been agreed by the cabinet, it will have to be approved at a meeting if all councillors, scheduled for November 25. With a large Conservative majority it would be a great surprise if it was voted down.

What you told the council

The new priorities and pledges have been based on what more than 700 people told Swindon Borough Council in survey where 5,000 random households were sent a letter.

Those who responded like where they live but aren’t nearly as impressed with the council’s performance.

Asked about their area as a place to live, 76 per cent are fairly or very satisfied, while 14 per cent are fairly or very dissatisfied and 10 per cent neither.

When it comes to how happy they are with the way the council runs things, 40 per cent are very or fairly satisfied, but that’s only four points ahead of the 36 per cent of residents who are fairly or very dissatisfied. Nearly a quarter, at 24 per cent, are somewhere in between.

The three most important aspects about the borough in making it a good place to live were assessed to be the parks and open spaces, the level of crime and health services.
Road and pavement repairs, traffic congestion and the state of the town centre and reasons to visit it are the three things most people wanted to see improved.

Parks and open spaces, waste collection and recycling and the council-run libraries service were the services that most people were most satisfied with. Nearly 60 per cent are pleased with waste collection services and 61 per cent love the parks and open spaces.

Pavement maintenance and repairs, action to address climate change and particularly road maintenance – at a low of 14 per cent being satisfied – were the services people are least happy about.

Are we getting value for money?

Most people in Swindon don’t think they are getting what they pay for when it comes to council services, according to the survey.

Of the 778 responses to 5,000 letters, 43 per cent either tend to disagree or strongly disagree they’re getting value for money. Just 25 per cent tend to or strongly agree that they are, while 33 per cent are neither agree or disagree.

Only four per cent think the council proved a great deal of value for money and 37 think it gives a fair deal of value. Nearly half think it gives not very much value at 48 per cent and 10 per cent think it gives no value for money at all.

Leader of the Conservative-run council David Renard was pressed on this point by Labour group leader Jim Grant. 

He said: “Given that council tax has been going up, people are paying more and more – does the leader think they are getting more value for money?”

Coun Renard said it was undeniable that council tax bills had increased but said: “It depends on what services people are getting as to whether they think they’re getting value for money. 

"People are very satisfied with things like waste collection – but the more services someone is receiving, the more value for money they would feel they’re getting.”

Asked by Coun Grant what would represent the council giving more value for money Coun Renard said if it achieved all of its new pledges by 2025 that would be counted as giving good value.