600 more jobs axed as councils slash budgets to balance books

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HUNDREDS of local authority jobs are being lost in Leeds and Rotherham as part of council plans to meet their latest budget targets.

Councillors in Leeds agreed cuts of £55.4m at its budget meeting yesterday, which means 400 jobs will be lost – part of the 2,500 full-time posts Leeds City Council needs to cut by 2015.

Another 200 jobs are set to go at Rotherham Council after senior members and officers drew up a budget which will see the authority slash its spending by a further £20m in the next financial year.

The authority has already shed 1,000 positions and council leader Roger Stone said yesterday he “could not rule out compulsory redundancies” adding “back office” roles were most under threat.

Meanwhile, Kirklees councillors last night agreed their budget for the next three years, with council leader Mehboob Khan saying the authority was on course to save £40m by the end of the financial year.

He confirmed that Red House museum, in Gomersal, would remain open after an earlier proposal earmarking it for closure caused a public outcry.

In Leeds, the council has opted to accept the Government’s one-off grant in order to freeze the council element of council tax bills for 2012-13.

The cuts agreed yesterday come after the authority last year had to find savings of £90m, to meet cuts to Government grants.

Savings agreed at the budget meeting include clawing back £190,000 by switching to fortnightly bin collections, while encouraging recycling to save on landfill costs, a pay freeze for senior council staff, meals on wheels charges will be increased by 50p to £4.50 for a main meal and council house rents will go up 6.8 per cent.

The authority has also set aside £1.75m to help deliver jobs, training and apprenticeships for young people.

Earlier, Coun Keith Wakefield, the leader of the council, warned: “decisions are getting tougher and tougher.”

At yesterday’s meeting, which saw a demonstration by union members against the cuts outside, the council leader unveiled a proposal to try to help first-time buyers get on the housing ladder.

He outlined the intention for Leeds to join the Local Authority Mortgage Scheme which will see the council underwrite up to four-fifths of the 25 per cent deposit needed to help buyers secure their first homes.

It would be open to anyone in the city looking to buy their first property valued at a maximum of £160,000 and the council has set aside a total of £2m for the scheme, with a lender to be selected shortly, who will offer a competitive rate of interest on the sums deposited.

In Rotherham, Coun Stone and his cabinet colleagues approved the cash-saving measures at a meeting yesterday, with the budget set to go before the full council for approval on March 7.

The Labour-led authority was forced to cut £30m last year and faces further cuts of about £11m in 2013-14, but council tax will remain frozen after a one-year only Government grant was accepted.

Some authorities in the region, including Chesterfield, have refused the grant and chosen to increase council tax over fears that freezing the levy again will create financial problems in 2013-14.

The council’s finance spokesman Jahangir Akhtar said he was aware the grant was for one year and could mean bigger tax rises in subsequent years, but said he was “confident” for the future.

He added: “This year the people of Rotherham have had enough put on their plate without having to pay an increase in council tax. We are confident we will be able to mitigate future increases.”