Council leader reveals “painful decisions in order to protect services” as £54.9m budget savings announced
The Leader of Leeds City Council Councillor Keith Wakefield today revealed “protecting essential services by making painful decisions we could no longer avoid” was the key theme of a budget to save a further £54.9million for next year.
Details of the council’s annual budget for 2013/14 were unveiled today, with significant further reductions in resources outlined to add to the £145m achieved in Leeds over the last two years since the government’s public spending review began. Councillor Wakefield expressed his “frustration and disappointment” that Leeds has been given the worst government settlement of all the core cities except one. He added: “This will inevitably see some services changing and others being stopped altogether but we remain committed to protecting services for our most vulnerable residents.”
The budget, to be discussed at the council’s executive board meeting on Friday 15 February before being ratified at the full council meeting at Civic Hall on Wednesday 27 February, is underpinned by the following elements:
- Working to protect and improve how frontline services can be offered in local areas
- Delivery of new homes in Leeds and improved accommodation for older people
- Working to improve services for vulnerable groups such as children and older people
- Maximising benefits of City Deal devolved powers and funding from government to the Leeds City Region, especially in offering apprenticeships and job opportunities for young people and promoting growth in Leeds
- Continued efficiencies and service improvements through collaborative working across council departments, with other local authorities and third sector through ‘civic enterprise’
- Raising additional income from reviewing charging policies and finding innovative new to raise to generate funds to protect jobs and services
- Providing support and advice to those affected by government welfare reforms
Leader of Leeds City Council Councillor Keith Wakefield said:
“Again this year the statistics show that Leeds has been hit harder than all the other core cities except one in terms of funding from the government. As a result in order to do all we can to protect essential services we have had to look at making decisions which previously we would have considered unthinkable.
“A lot of people have maybe become indifferent to the negative messages coming from all corners of the economy, but unfortunately this year with changes to welfare benefits and the continuing budget reductions the reality of the situation is going to start hitting home and people are going to be faced with some big decisions about their lifestyles and spending.
“We are doing all we can to keep the impact of these changes to a minimum, but at the same time we also have a firm commitment to growth, embracing new ideas and working together to deliver a strong future for Leeds.”
Among the changes proposed in the 2013/14 budget are:
- Increasing council house rents, garage rents and service charges by 5.9 per cent
- Children’s nursery fees to be increased by £2 per day, although service still significantly cheaper than private providers
- Above-inflation rise in council fees and charges to raise additional £1.4m
- Sport charges to increase by approximately 4 per cent
- School clothing allowances to end to save £600,000
- Bereavement charges to increase by 7.5 per cent to reduce council subsidy of the service, although hardship grants will be available
- Review of car parking fees for evenings and Sundays
- Review of charging for residents car parking permits
- The review of adult social care services which are currently free
- New or increased charges for council events
- End to some elements of free home to school/college travel from September 2013 to save £2.8m
- Seasonal closure of heritage facilities
Councillor Wakefield added:
“This has been by far the hardest budget to set in my time on the council and we want to be up front with people about the scale of the challenge we are facing and what these changes will mean.
“Making decisions which we know will be unpopular over price increases and budget cuts is not something any of us wanted to make, but the position is now so difficult we have had no choice but to look at areas we had previously avoided.”
To support those affected by national changes to council tax and welfare benefits which begin on April 1 the council is providing extra funding for advice and support.
The council has also confirmed exemptions from any changes to council tax benefits will continue for pensioners, lone parents of children under five, carers, households which receive the Severe or Enhanced Disability Premium and war widows.
Alternative week black and green bin collections will be rolled out across the city in the coming year, helping to reduce landfill costs by £400,000 and improve recycling rates, while the Rothwell Food Waste Collection Service is to be extended to 3,000 additional homes.
The council is also looking to make a further £4.5m savings in 2013/14 by reducing staffing levels by 334 full-time equivalents (not including schools staff), as part of the drive to reduce staff numbers by 2,500 from April 2010 to March 2015. This will be carried out through the continuation of the council’s voluntary retirement and severance scheme.
With a strong focus on supporting essential services and those for vulnerable people in particular the young and elderly, the budget also includes the following commitments:
- An extra £2.9m for adult social care, focusing on encouraging independent living, early interventions and more personalised services for customers
- An additional £3m to be invested in services for those with learning disabilities
- An extra £3.1m to be invested in children’s services for those with special education needs, temporary social workers and fostering/adoption
- Savings of £6m identified in children’s services due to success of prevention and early intervention measures meaning less children being placed in external care
- Additional £2.5m in family support measures
- Procurement savings of £4.7m
- £3m New Homes Bonus on offer from the government if 2,000 new properties are built or brought back into use
- Housing maintenance budget increased by 3 per cent
- Additional £558,000 for grounds maintenance to provide enhanced service for grass cutting, shrub and rose bed maintenance, weeding and litter control
- £1.7m funding from Arts Council England for Leeds museums and galleries over next three years
- £500,000 towards possible redevelopment of Kirkgate Market
- Additional £250,000 for improving environment and cleanliness of housing estates
Councillor Wakefield added:
“While things are undoubtedly tough, we are still ambitious and are striving to become the Best City in the UK and for Leeds to be a Child Friendly City. Along with taking care of people with disabilities, we will do all we can to help the most vulnerable members of our society.
“In both children’s services and adult social care, the way services are being delivered by the council or our partners is changing, to now focus on early interventions and giving people choices and a much more personalised service. This is already making a big difference to people’s lives and we are committed to developing that further in the years to come.”
Growth is a major element of the budget, with a commitment to providing new housing as well as the benefits to be gained from the devolution of powers from government to the region announced last year.
Elements of the City Deal include:
- £400m Investment Fund and £1bn Transport Fund for Leeds City Region over the next 10 years
- Leeds to receive portion of £5m Regional Growth Fund for business grant schemes over next two years
- Portion of £4.6m from Skills Funding Agency for opportunities for young people and those looking for first chance of employment
- New Apprenticeship Training Agency with Leeds City College to provide new opportunities
In addition, up to new 15 apprenticeship places will be on offer in the council’s parks and countryside service.
This year also sees the opening of the long-awaited Leeds Arena and the Trinity Leeds shopping development, while Headingley will also host matches in the Rugby League World Cup and the city begins the build-up to hosting the prestigious Grand Depart of the Tour de France in July 2014.
Councillor Wakefield said:
“The City Deal offers us the chance to make a real difference to the Leeds economy and that of the wider region, helping businesses develop which will hopefully result in job creation, while the apprenticeship programmes are absolutely vital to offering young people who currently are in danger of missing out altogether a chance to learn a skill and forge careers for themselves which is hugely important.
“Despite the difficulties, 2013 is also going to be a great year for Leeds with the amazing arena finally opening and Trinity Leeds which are two massive new assets and attractions for the city. Hosting the world champions New Zealand and two matches in the Rugby League World Cup is going to be fantastic later in the year while we are all hugely excited by the incredible prospect of the Tour de France starting in Leeds next year, with more details to be revealed over the next 12 months.”
As part of the legacy of the London 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games in Leeds, the council is also to introduce a new scheme entitled ‘Get Healthy Leeds’ which will see sessions in leisure centres available for free each day to encourage those who currently do not take part in any physical exercise.
October will also see the opening of the new £28m Holt Park Active wellbeing centre, offering state-of-the-art new facilities where people can access sport, older people’s services, services for those with mental health needs and learning disabilities as well as leisure, community and social activities.
From April 1, Leeds City Council will be taking on the public health responsibilities formerly managed by the Leeds Primary Care Trust. An example of the closer working between the council and the National Health Service along with other healthcare providers is the reopening of the former Harry Booth House in Beeston in April as the city’s first Joint Immediate Care Unit, providing a short-term rehabilitation and reablement service for people after they are discharged from hospital.
As part of the council’s consultation carried out before setting the 2013/14 budget, the public were asked to give their views by taking part in the online budget simulator ‘YouChoose’.
More than 2,000 responses were received, while sessions were also held with young people and third sector groups. The results called for the focus of cuts to be made to culture and leisure services, as well as economic and planning-related services. The lowest areas indicated to be cut were those in children’s services while areas to generate additional income came from charging extra for collecting bulky household waste, car parking and raising leisure centre prices.
Councillor Wakefield added:
“I’d like to thank everyone who took part in the consultation exercise, the feedback was very useful in guiding us as we made some really tough choices.
“People are bound to feel disappointed and aggrieved at some of those choices and we do share their concerns, but we hope people can appreciate that sadly they could no longer be avoided. The next few months and even years are undoubtedly going to be very tough, but it is important to remember Leeds is still a great place to live and I am confident the city has a very bright future.”
Notes to editors:
The Leeds City Deal is overseen by Leeds City Region Partnership, which brings together the eleven local authorities of Barnsley, Bradford, Calderdale, Craven, Harrogate, Kirklees, Leeds, Selby, Wakefield, York and North Yorkshire County Council to work with businesses and partners toward a common prosperous and sustainable city region in areas such as transport, skills, housing, spatial planning and innovation. For more information visit www.leedscityregion.gov.uk/
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