Council leader warns of “near-impossible” situation as details revealed to manage £45.4m annual budget cut

The Leader of Leeds City Council has warned the situation is becoming “near impossible” as details of the annual budget to manage a further cut of £45.4million were released today.

The budget for 2015/16 to be discussed by the executive board on February 11 before being approved by full council on February 25 includes a 1.99 per cent increase in council tax as Leeds looks to manage another above-average cut in its core funding from government. By March 2016, Leeds will have received approximately £180m less in total core funding representing a drop of more than 40 per cent in five years.

In addition to the loss of core funding, the council continues to also absorb the rising costs of services, in particular through the increased demand for services for older people.

The latest core funding reduction comes following recent warnings by the National Audit Office, the Office for Budget Responsibility and the Institute for Fiscal Studies of the dangers of continuing austerity on local authorities and public services. The Centre for Cities Cities Outlook Report 2015 released last month also warned of the north-south economic divide widening and advocating the need for devolution of resources and decision-making powers to cities and city regions.

Aside from the council tax rise, the budget will also see council housing rents increase by 2.88 per cent and fees and charges across the council will go up by at least inflation as considered appropriate.

Leader of Leeds City Council Councillor Keith Wakefield said:

“The budget-setting challenge this year has been the most difficult I have ever been involved with, facing choices none of us would ever want to make but there is simply no other way, the money is just not there anymore.

“It cannot be right that Leeds and authorities in the north are getting hit with massive cuts for another year while some of the most affluent parts of the country in the south get either no cuts or even an increase in their ‘spending power’. That is deeply unfair.

“We have done everything we can to try and protect our most vulnerable residents as best we can, but I’m afraid it’s a near-impossible task and I’m sad to say over the next 12 months people will be suffering as a result. We wish there was another way but all the choices are just brutally hard now, and if as some say we are only halfway through austerity I fear for the future of councils and public services as more and more nationally-respected groups and bodies are saying this is already dangerously unsustainable.”

Following the release of the initial budget proposals in December a period of public consultation followed, with more than 500 new responses received indicating a preference where possible to protect frontline services especially for vulnerable children, young people and adults.

In line with those views children’s services and adult social care account for a combined 60 per cent of the council’s total budget for 2015/16, with a revamp of services being carried out in both areas to offer a multi-agency approach offering a more localised and improved service to families and older people.

The council has committed an extra £500,000 next year to help vulnerable children and young people, while it is also providing £800,000 for the Local Welfare Support Scheme to help those facing severe financial hardship and £250,000 to help residents with severe disabilities living in adapted properties who have seen their housing benefits reduced so they can continue living in their own homes.

The council will continue its policy of adopting new ways of working and making efficiencies in all areas, extending civic enterprise to work with partners, agencies, community groups and the third sector to deliver improved services.

The council itself will continue to get smaller as an organisation, with a reduction of a further 450 full-time equivalent (fte) staff meaning by March 2016 it will have lost 2,500 ftes in five years.

The budget details reductions of opening hours at leisure centres and contact centres as well as cuts to grants to third sector groups such as arts organisations and the advice agency.

Nursery fees will rise by 5.1 per cent, but all 57 children’s centres in the city will continue operating. Bereavement charges will increase by four per cent, while the number of Breeze on Tour summer events will be cut from three to one.

The highways maintenance budget is to be cut by six per cent, while the possibility of transferring Pudsey Civic Hall and Yeadon Tarn Sailing Centre to community management will be explored and community centres in the city are currently under review.

A review is also to be carried out of all household waste recycling sites across the city, while the roll-out of alternative weekly bin collections will continue, covering 76 per cent of properties in the city by summer 2015. The garden waste collection service will also be extended to residents which previously did not receive it.

The council will raise additional new income from public advertising and new temporary car parking, while it will also work closer with the West Yorkshire Combined Authority as a deal devolving powers and responsibilities to the Leeds City Region is awaited.

The year ahead will see the major redevelopment of Leeds Kirkgate Market being carried out, while the Victoria Gate shopping complex will continue to take shape as it nears its opening in 2016.

Major events coming to the city in the next 12 months will be the British Art Show at Leeds Art Gallery and two matches in the Rugby Union World Cup 2015 at Elland Road. The finale of the new Tour de Yorkshire international cycle race will take place at Roundhay Park on Sunday 3 May, while the legacy from last year’s Tour de France Grand Départ will be further reinforced by work being carried out to create the new City Connect cycling superhighway between Leeds and Bradford.

Councillor Wakefield added:

“Despite things being so tough, it is a measure of the resilience and determination of our city and its people that we continue to get on and make things happen, be they events or major new developments. It gives me immense pride to see people in Leeds making the very best of every situation, as showed with the amazing Tour de France Grand Départ last summer. Times are incredibly hard, there’s no escaping that, but despite such obstacles Leeds as a city continues to deliver and progress and that should be something we can all be proud of.”

Leeds City Council’s 2015/16 budget report can be seen in full at http://bit.ly/1CsUo6z

Notes to editors:

The report by the National Audit Office (NAO) can be seen at http://www.nao.org.uk/press-releases/financial-sustainability-local-authorities-2014/

The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) report can be seen at http://budgetresponsibility.org.uk/economic-fiscal-outlook-december-2014/

The response to the Autumn Statement by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) can be seen at http://www.ifs.org.uk/tools_and_resources/budget/498

To see the Centre for Cities Cities Outlook 2015 go to http://www.centreforcities.org/publication/cities-outlook-2015/


For media enquiries please contact:

Roger Boyde,

Leeds City Council press office,

Email: roger.boyde@leeds.gov.uk