MINISTER Sajid Javid defended his Government’s programme of austerity cuts that has forced swingeing cutbacks to services and a council tax increase.
The Communities Secretary said the Conservatives had to balance the books as he visited County Hall, in Trowbridge, to launch the Tories’ election campaign for Wiltshire Council on May 4.
During the council’s latest term, services like public toilets and children’s play areas, which used to be provided by Wiltshire Council have been cut to save money, with many town and parish councils trying to raise enough funds to keep them going.
Although the cuts have been put in place by the council, it has said they were forced on them by the funding cuts made by the Government.
However, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government said on Tuesday the Conservatives have done a good job.
“I would say that the best group of people to take this council forward and provide the best provision they can in local services is the same group of people that have been in charge of Wiltshire Council for a number of years,” Mr Javid said.
“If you look across England where councils have been run by Labour or Liberal Democrats, they have often found savings on the front line and hurt local people.
“Here there have been savings in spending but that does not mean to say there has been cuts in public service provision. That is the difference.
“People want to see good libraries, social care, transport – and of course that costs resources but they want to make sure that Wiltshire Council, who have shown they will find savings in the right places and protect frontline services, is spending every penny of tax payer money it’s got wisely and that is what it has done.”
Last year Wiltshire Council also discontinued its grant for the Hopper bus service, which transported 1,500 people a year to Bath’s Royal United Hospital, due to a lack of funds, meaning the service was ended.
After a council tax freeze for some years, the 2016/17 budget has seen the tax rise 1.99 per cent, as well as a three per cent levy which will go towards adult and social care.
“I think most people understand they want their country to live within its means and balance the books. That means that everyone’s had to contribute to that process,” Mr Javid said.
“But what you have seen in Wiltshire is how a first class council handles that job.
“They have focused on finding savings in the back office and the middle office but have protected frontline services.”