Report from I.W. Councillor Roger Mazillius

Posted by IWC Admin on Friday, 19th November 2010, 00:00

COUNCILLOR ROGER MAZILLIUS
I.W. COUNCILLOR FOR
COWES SOUTH & NORTHWOOD
21 OXFORD STREET, NORTHWOOD
ISLE OF WIGHT PO31 8PT
Tel: 01983 295556
Email:
roger.mazillius@iow.gov.uk

REPORT – DECEMBER 2010 / JANUARY 2011

COUNCIL BUDGET 2011 / 2012

Residents will of course be aware that following last year’s General Election and the formation of the Coalition Government, a Comprehensive Spending Review has been published highlighting the state of the nation’s finances.

This has shown the huge multi-billion pound national debt and the high cost of repaying that debt which falls on every taxpayer in the country including those who will have to pay tax in the future, i.e. your children and grandchildren. Whilst such future liability has ever been thus the present scale of national debt is unprecedented in modern times.

So the Government has announced a massive curtailment in public expenditure over the next four years in a bid to not only hugely reduce that debt but also to keep the interest we pay on that debt as low as possible.

This can only be done by initially making relatively short term, i.e. four year plans to reduce public spending whilst maintaining those services most vital to public need and keeping interest rates as low as possible to help industry expand, thus preserving and creating private sector employment and assisting families with mortgages in these difficult times. In addition, old age pensions increases have to be considered and made.

Many of these public sector cuts have been, as expected, targeted at local authorities whose increasing public sector role over the last decade or more has been a feature of public life in this country. So much so, many believe that this has led to Councils being seen as a first point of call for almost anything with the widely held view that “the Council should do this”.

That perception has to be addressed because the money is no longer available to fund local Councils at those previous levels. The Isle of Wight Council expects to have to make large spending reductions over the next four years commencing with the budget for the fiscal year 1st April 2011 to the 31st March 2012.

The Government has indicated that the Council will need to find savings of at least £32 million during those four years with at least £17 million of those to be made in that first year. That will represent a 26% reduction in Government funding.

We are now engaged in that difficult process, the preliminary scope of which will be outlined at the Council’s Cabinet meeting on the 7th December, the public papers for which will be available online at iwight.com for the end of November.

The national finances mean that all Council expenditure will be under review including services to schools, the elderly, libraries, leisure, public transport, housing, refuse collections and staffing at all levels. This will result in a number of very painful choices having to be made to balance the books.

As the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury said in his note to his Coalition Government successor, “There is no money left”. Whilst this was not literally true, what it did mean was that too much money had been spent in the past to the extent that there was none available to continue spending at past high levels.

The Council has and continues to consult widely on these difficult spending decisions and I would be pleased to hear from residents with their views. As the Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care and Housing, I am well aware of the importance of those services to Island residents but the time has come when all these service levels have to be reviewed. This is not something either myself or my colleagues take lightly and I must tell you that the responsibility for this weighs heavily on my mind.

However, we are faced with little choice in terms of having to make these spending reductions because the Council is not allowed by law to pass a deficit budget. This means that with less money to spend, we will simply not be able to provide the same level of services as in previous years. Whilst every effort will be made to maintain as many services as possible, even with what may well need to be substantial staffing reductions, services will be reduced from next year.

I hope residents will understand the difficult position we will all face over the next few years and that unless this debt problem is  fully addressed now, the nation’s finances will only continue to spiral downwards into an even higher level of national debt leading to even higher levels of interest rates leading in turn to even higher levels of eventual public spending reductions. You do not need a degree in economics to see the inevitability of that scenario.

In the meantime, all is not doom and gloom and we will do our very best to ensure that core services are protected and that appropriate safety nets are put in place to assist the most vulnerable of our residents whilst at the same time actually not increasing next year’s rate of Council Tax.

Jill and myself send our usual sincere seasonal greetings to all residents with our best wishes for the new year.

Roger Mazillius

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