The Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead have once again announced a Council Tax reduction – this year of 0.5% compared to last years’ record breaking 4% reduction.
Our Band D rate (at £990) should again be the lowest outside a few central London Boroughs and is now lower in actual terms than in 2007 when the local LibDems lost power, despite inflation; this is something like a 12% real terms cut over 4 years.
All this without affecting the major front line services – and putting over £1m more into our child safeguarding budget, and £1.7 extra into adult social care. We’re not closing libraries, we’re not reducing the bin collections – on the contrary, we’ve given everybody improved and incentive based recycling!
We have worked very hard with officers and Members to achieve the savings required. Our experience in putting together the budget from last year by spending reductions put us in good stead to deliver another tax cut. With likely freezes from precepting police and fire, the Council Tax bill in Windsor and Maidenhead is, for many people, one bill that will be reducing rather than increasing.
Compared with September RPI (our inflationary benchmark), which was 4.6%, the 0.5% reduction is a cut in real terms of over 5%.
We have achieved the reduction by finding over £9m of savings from continuing our restructuring, renegotiating contracts, removal of parts of the previous Labour Governments’ grants that have become un-ringfenced, starting to share more services across our authority boundaries, cheaper procurement, externalisation of services, reducing spending on speed cameras (but not entirely!), cheaper communications costs and many other savings across the piece.
As a Big Society Vanguard, we’re increasing the amount of money available for small voluntary organisations in the way of grants, and have made it quicker and easier to apply for small sums. Our push for more volunteering, more transparency in government and of devolution to lower tiers of government and communities continues apace. We find great enthusiasm for the Big Society ideal and, although timing with the tough economic times is not helpful, the fostering and enhancement of the work people do in their community, for their communities is well worth our efforts. We have been rewarded already with increases in volunteers, and greater rollout of transparency initiatives across the Council (and country) have been well received.
There is a lot more that underpins a 0.5% reduction in Council Tax, with all of the pressures upon us, but hopefully that gives a brief flavour of our approach.