In times of rising fuel and food prices, with pressure on wages and income all around, the Council tax will be falling again in Windsor and Maidenhead for the fourth year in succession.
But how have we been able to do this when others have only frozen – or are taking tough political decisions to raise Council Tax?
We’ve again saved money by negotiating hard with suppliers on contracts. We have restructured our senior team to reduce top level management costs – without reducing too far so as to have insufficient senior people to get the job done. There’s even a small pay rise for staff on lower salaries, because we recognise that times are hard for them as well as taxpayers. Councils have relatively high staffing costs per head, because of the legal requirement to provide the final salary pension scheme.
We’ve worked very hard (myself and other colleagues putting in long hours to achieve this reduction), asking for, and finding, a lot of smaller savings. For politicians to direct effectively the control of a budget that runs into the hundreds of millions is not a trivial exercise. We could leave it up to the full time civil servants to define our budget, but they would not, of course, be recommending tax cuts!
We’re not hiking fees and charges for residents, we’re not spending reserves and we’re not even cutting large numbers of jobs (the current redundancy count is around half last year’s total).
Moreover, we work continually to ‘graze’ in year savings – for the current year, despite reducing council tax by 1.5%, we have also underspent by over £1m, which has already added to our reserves. Just because the budget is there, it doesn’t mean it has to be spent – it is, as we never forget, other people’s money that we are responsible for.
The 3% reduction will also make significant contribution in cumulative terms to the local economy. We calculate that the four years of reductions will have put some £16 million back into local householder’s pockets compared with a four year freeze. Far better that local people (and schools) determine where they spend their money, wherever possible. Our Band D will be at just £945.78 – several hundreds of pounds lower than the average English Band D rate.
For too long, the Left have defined “spend more” to mean “better services”. We Conservatives know that by driving efficiency into the organisation, services will be run smarter, cheaper and better.
PS To all those who may say “ah, you’re just matching H&F” – in fact, our working financial plan for 2013/4 showed us on track for almost exactly a 3% reduction before we finalised our recommendation.