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Almost no residents give their views at public budget meetings

February 11, 2015 8:53 AM

Here's a WC press release about the budget. First the health warnings. Note the reference to 'more than 250 residents'. Whilst this could in theory be any number above 250 it's likely to mean 251, because if it had been 252 WC would have said 'more than 251'. The population of Wiltshire is 470,981 (2011 census). 251 people as a proportion of that is 0.000533. Many of those people were councillors, so the number of real people will be even more miniscule.

So why don't people turn up to WC consultation events? Perhaps they've heard of the Green Bin Tax fiasco, where 6% of people said they were prepared to pay £35 to have their bins collected and 94% said they wanted a winter break in collections. The council went with the 6% and ignored the 94%. (There may be a financial advantage here - since any future consultations by the Scott administration will now be treated with utter derision there's no point in having them, so their cost can be saved.)

One more point about consultations is that they are in themselves a box-ticking exercise irrespective of the result. Regular readers of WC press releases will recognise the format. We see statements such as, "We consulted widely on (unpopular policy) and got thousands of responses. It was one of our most popular consultations ever and we'd like to thank the thousands of residents who took part." The fact that perhaps 94% of people opposed the policy is lost in the warmth of the words.

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Wiltshire Council's cabinet discussed how they will rise to the challenge of saving £30 million over the next year during this morning's cabinet meeting and agreed to take the proposals to full council later this month.

More than 250 residents have attended public meetings at which the raft of proposals were unveiled. Meetings have taken place over the last two weeks at Chippenham, Trowbridge, Devizes and Salisbury.

The Budget presentation and details of the Budget Q&A are now available online.

Wiltshire Council currently spends around £900 million each year on more than 350 services. Changing demographics, such as people living longer coupled with inflation and further cuts in funding from central government means more savings need to be found.

Last year the council received £119 million from the Government - this year it will get £103.8 million. This cut of more than £15 million, combined with the rise in demand for some key front line services and inflation costs, means the council needs to find a further £30 million of savings this coming financial year.

The council has identified more than 100 areas where savings can be made. These include charging for garden waste collections; finding office efficiencies in support services; encouraging efficiencies in voluntary sector services; changing street lighting times and reviewing the Household Recycling Centres' opening times.

The meetings gave the public the opportunity to engage directly with Wiltshire Council leader Jane Scott and cabinet members on challenges the council faces and to engage in a debate on where savings should be found.

Jane Scott said: "Both national and local media have well publicised the 'cut-backs' and the pressures facing public services. These cuts are real - and so is the growing demand for the services that we provide.

"Our main priority continues to be supporting those who are most vulnerable, as well as taking action to boost the local economy, safeguarding and creating jobs and working with communities to help them to be strong and resilient in order do more for themselves."

The budget will be discussed and agreed at a meeting of the full council on 24 February 2015.