Since way back in 2010 councils across the UK have found themselves bearing the brunt of austerity policies, forcing them to rationalise and even reduce the services they can provide. It has not been pretty: libraries closed, support services curtailed, school budgets frozen.
And as you must also have found, recently it has become far worse. Inflation has soared from a tiny half percent to double figures – although it is a bit lower now. Interest rates have followed suit and so many residents are now finding that what was an affordable mortgage is now a horrible weight around their necks.
The changes have played havoc with council budgets, too. So have the changed demands following the Covid pandemic. Nor do the financial pressures look like they will ease any time soon, so in effect we are all trying to cope with a storm which just keeps blowing and blowing.
In Monmouthshire we are certainly seeing this writ large and it is made still worse by understandable and legitimate increases in the need for our services.
The trouble is we are trying to do all this with budgets which were set when such extremes were not envisaged. I’ll give you three examples: a huge increase in the cost of home-to-school transport; crippling energy costs for heating schools and swimming pools; and the cost of collecting waste and dealing with fly-tipping. I could go on and on!
Across Wales, local authorities have developed skills in cutting costs, and at the same time the Welsh Government has been as helpful as possible, despite its own, chronic cash shortages. But now we are finding that a little snip here and there will not do the trick. We are having to use our creative skills to find some more fundamental changes to the way we work.
Thankfully, in Monmouthshire we have a great team of officers and together with my cabinet colleagues we will find solutions to protect services. We are going to keep serving residents as best we can. Not easy but we’ll get there.
And to end on a positive note, while all around may seem bleak, this is the time of year that shows up the beauty of our wonderful county, with sunlight glinting through the leaves as they turn fabulous shades of red, orange and yellow.