The Isle of Wight Council has passed a budget it said would strike a balance between protecting services, investing in priority areas while also helping the authority find required savings of over £17 million in the coming financial year.
The budget included proposals to keep six libraries open and run directly by the authority while community groups who have expressed an interest in running the other five are being offered more time and support to develop their proposals*.
The budget also allocated £25,000 to support community organisations in training beach lifeguards while plans to introduce charges for pedestrians using the Cowes chain ferry were also shelved.
The budget also included a commitment to invest in key areas including the Highways PFI that will see every stretch of Island road brought up to standard and maintained for 25 years while millions have also been earmarked to help meet the increased needs in adult social care, looked after children and safeguarding issues. Also set aside is investment in the Island’s leisure centres including creating new gym facilities and also improving the pool at The Heights to make it suitable for a greater range of uses.
Because the council tax element of the budget does not rise by more than 2.5 percent, there will be no increase in council tax bills. The council tax for a Band D will therefore remain at the 2010/11 level of £1,289.80.
As part of the need to find over £17 million in savings this year as a result of reduced grant and increased costs, the budget does however include the council ceasing to run Tourist Information Centres – though bus operator Southern Vectis has announced plans to create its own visitor information centres as a response – and raising or introducing charges for some social services and also the eligibility criteria that residents must meet in order to qualify for those services. At the same time, the authority has agreed to spend £1.6m extra on adult social care.
After the Full Council meeting, IW Council leader Cllr David Pugh said: “As an Islander myself, I do understand the strength of feeling around this budget and the importance that residents rightly place on public services.
“But the harsh reality is we have to set a lawful and balanced budget and – given the substantial cuts in funding to us and also the increased costs and demand we face – it is sadly inevitable that we have had to reduce spending in some areas in order to do that.
“This was a budget seeking to direct our significantly reduced resources to those areas for which we have a legal duty and those on which the most vulnerable residents rely.
“We have tried wherever we can – and thanks in many cases to the active and valued support from within the Island – to preserve as many services as possible and have in many cases been able to protect amenities that were previously under consideration for closure.”
Cllr Pugh said that the council’s proposals for the library service had been amended significantly from the model on which the council originally went out to public consultation as had its plans for public toilets. Under the budget, up to 52 of the Island’s 67 public conveniences would remain open with the council directly running 34 of them*. The previous model had involved the council ceasing to run all but 35 toilets.
“It was a welcome feature of the consultation we held that people’s obvious passion for services such as libraries was also matched in many cases with a realisation of the financial pressures we face and, furthermore, a determination to actively support local services in their areas,” said Cllr Pugh.
“There have unquestionably been some very difficult and controversial decisions taken in this budget process. But faced with the financial reality of having to find over £17 million of reductions next year alone and a further eight million the following year we had no alternative but to look at all areas of expenditure.
“We have tried to protect services as far as we can by cutting the council’s own costs. Over £11m of the reductions come from management, back office and efficiency savings. However the scale of the challenge has meant some impact on frontline services as well. All in all, the largest single element of the required savings has been found by making our own organisation more efficient.”