Eighty council jobs will be slashed and streetlighting across the borough will be dimmed as part of sweeping budget cuts planned at under-pressure Swindon Borough Council.
The authority, which is set to make a massive £32 million in cuts from April, is also set to make reductions to vital services such as libraries, community transport services and adult social care services.
Speaking before a pre-budget report is debated by cabinet members at the authority next week, council leader Councillor Jim Robbins and the member for finance Councillor Kevin Small painted an alarming picture of the state of the council’s accounts.
Cllr Robbins said: “We still have an in-year spending gap of £6.5 million in this year’s budget, which we have to close by the end of March.
“In next year’s budget we have already identified £18.8 million in savings, but we still have to find another £14m.
“We had a Local Government Association review of our finances just after we took power – and it said that any easy wins, or low-hanging fruit has long gone. Any savings now will be affecting front-line services."
That £32m in cuts to services is the largest single saving the council has ever been forced to make and represents 18 per cent of the revenue budget – where the council makes its day-to-day spending – which will be £175m in 2024-25.
With another council, Nottingham City, recently declaring itself effectively bankrupt, Cllr Robbins was reassuring that Swindon was not in the same position.
However he warned it was far from entirely safe: “We don’t think we’ll be in a position where we need to make a Section 114 declaration this year or next.
“Further out than that it’s impossible to say – but we think we will get through the next two years but that’s without something unexpected happening."
As well as the cutting of 80 full-time equivalent posts, 24 of which are already vacant and will not be filled, the draft budget includes saving £4m by increasing what the council calls community-led support to reduce demand on adults’ services and reducing the cost of children’s placements by using more local foster carers and improving the commissioning of services, saving £2.93m.
The way the town's five core libraries are run will be changed, saving £606,000 over two years, streetlights might be dimmed at certain times of night to save £400,000 and the council will no longer fund community transport services which costs £182,000 at the moment.
If approved by cabinet, the council will wait to see what its grant from central government will be and how much it is allowed by Whitehall to raise in council tax.
Cllr Small said: “We have already factored in a rise of two per cent for adult social care and 2.99 per cent for all other spending, adding up to 4.99 per cent. That’s what we expect we will be allowed to do.”
Once the full budget is drawn up in the new year the cabinet and then full council will have to approve it in February.
Cllr Small said: “It will give me no pleasure at all to stand up in those meetings and introduce cuts to services.
“The support from central government has been getting less and less over the last 13 years – the government has wanted to replace its support with council tax.
“But demand, particularly in adults care and also even more so in children’s services has been rising, and increasing inflation, the rise in fuel costs has also had a huge impact.”
Cllr Robbins said: "If we don’t balance this year’s budget, and set a balanced budget for next year the alternative is government commissioners come in and cut everything that is not a statutory duty.
“We have to be a responsible guardian of the council’s finances.”