Just before the Christmas break, the Council had to make one of the most difficult decisions it has to make each year, which is setting the annual budget. Whilst the council is used to making decisions that impact groups of residents, setting the annual budget has an impact on every council taxpayer who lives in a Devizes, therefore it is not a decision that is taken lightly.
This year’s decision was more challenging than it has been for the last few years for various reasons, especially with the rise in the cost of living we have all had to live with, and this has also added financial pressure on the cost of services the council itself provides, especially as many of its historic buildings are energy hungry as they were designed when energy efficiency was not a top priority.
One of the biggest changes the council has seen over the last few years is how the community perceives its town council. No longer does it sit subservient to Wiltshire Council, but has now become the authority that is expected to pick up the slack when other service providers fail to deliver or at least to bring them to account. As a consequence of this, over the last few years, we have seen a massive increase in calls to the Town Hall or enquiries through our weblink messaging option “Report it”, which distracts the few administrative staff from their normal duties, resulting in plans to improve our own services or improve efficiency being continually interrupted.
In setting the 2024/25 budget, Councillors agreed that it is an important part of the Town Council’s role to sit at the heart of the community and to be there to support residents, whenever and however it can and to do that, it must have the resources.
There are also a number of key projects the council needs to get on with and deliver, such as Neighbourhood Planning to strengthen our ability to resist unwanted development, a Tourism Strategy to support the town economy, reducing the council’s reliance on single-use plastic, developing a wider sustainability strategy so that future generations enjoy the town, finishing the Crammer enhancement project, progressing the Shambles and Market Place Improvements and overhauling its commercial business marketing strategies to ensure its paid for services are still relevant, to name but a few.
It’s clear that for the last few years, the face of local government has been changing and those services that shape our towns as great places to live, work and visit are increasingly falling heavily under the responsibility of Town and parish councils, with Devizes being historically at the forefront of these changes.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this musing, Councillors needed to make some difficult choices in setting the 2024/25 but agreed to increase the town council’s element of your council tax bill by 6.46% which will not only help offset some inflationary pressures we have already absorbed but to give us the resources that will support improvements to our town.
We know not everyone will support the Council’s choices, but be assured in deciding to increase its Council Tax charge, elected members will be holding me and my administrative colleagues to account to ensure we deliver on their ambitions.
Town Clerk – Simon Fisher