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Wiltshire Council - the budget

February 15, 2012 8:28 AM
By Trevor Carbin

The good news is that your Council Tax bill will not increase this year. The government has given Wiltshire Council a grant to allow it to freeze the rate. With the police and fire services also freezing theirs the only element which might increase is the town or parish council, which is usually only a tiny part of the whole bill.

The bad news though is that the government is unlikely to provide the grant next year, so expect a rise of at least 5% over 2013 - 2015.

The council's income comes from council tax, government funding, fees for services such as planning and charges for car parking etc. The state of the economy and miscalculations by the council means that the fees & charges income is down. Despite the council tax freeze there is a slight increase in income because of new house occupancies. Surprisingly the grants from government have been quite generous, with a relatively small decline this year. However the council's programme of redundancies and cuts to services will continue.

Another source of income and expenditure mostly in Salisbury District is council housing. This stays in a separate account from the rest of the budget, and is complicated this year by changes to the way council housing is financed, but the bottom line for tenants will be a 6.4% rent increase.

Traditionally the greatest part of the county budget was expenditure on schools. However nowadays the council merely receives the money from the government only to immediately divide it up amongst the county's schools according to a fixed formula.

To help decision-making in the areas where there is discretion the council has held consultation events in the four districts. A total of 75 people attended these - an average of eighteen and three-quarters people per event. The council is very good at slanting questions to get the answers it wants. "Spending money on older people to stop them dying in despair is more important than subsidising museums - do you agree?"

Following this and other 'consultations' there will be increased spending on road maintenance (£18.7m up from £18.1m), adult social care (£9.668m up from £4.421m) and social housing, where the Private Finance Initiative is finally beginning to create houses. The council has little control over social services expenditure - if the demand is there it has to be met.

There will be cuts to benefit processing (£280,000) and museums & galleries (£50,000).

The money from government comes in a variety of different grants, but the total amount is likely to be £136.244million, a slight reduction from last year's £141.970m.

Inflation is also hitting budgets. Although official figures may show low rates of inflation, in the real world of contracts, oil and utility prices the actual bill is nearly £5m more than originally estimated. Incidentally the ability of the WC publicity department to spin bad news into good is shown by the way inflation costs are described as an 'investment', as is the loss of income of £1.1m caused by the car parking debacle.

The council continues to look for savings to balance the budget. These have been found through redundancies, reprofiling of debt, cuts to services, and the asset-stripping of the old District Council properties.

Here's a list of some of the cuts to front-line services the council is inflicting on the people of Wiltshire:

Early Years Education - £478,000

School Support - £628,000

Youth Services - £915,000

Highways - £675,000

Leisure - £100,000

Public Health - £450,000

Home Care services - £4,800,000

Disabled Adults - £828,000

Housing - £444,000

The full documentation, including the council's justification for the cuts, is available on the WC website www.wiltshire.gov.uk