Care homes to go as council curbs spending

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CARE homes, sports facilities and specialist learning centres are all to be closed in a wave of cuts announced by Leeds City Council to battle “its biggest financial challenge since the 1930s”.

The authority has revealed 13 council-run buildings involved in adult social care are likely to go during the next year. These are mostly care homes and day centres and also include two centres for those with specialist learning disabilities.

The Leeds Crisis Centre, which provides free short-term counselling and support, also faces the axe and council bosses will be asked next week to approve plans to shut it.

The authority must make savings of £90m over the next 12 months and has already confirmed 1,500 jobs will go, 1,100 by the end of next month. Around 3,000 posts are to be axed over the next four years.

Council leader Keith Wakefield said the council had not faced a challenge on this scale for nearly 100 years.

He warned that the situation would only get tougher and, as a further £25m would need to be saved in 2012/13, could not rule out compulsory redundancies in the future.

“Leeds, like many other Northern cities, has received one of the worst settlements in the country and we’re left to deal with the consequences,” he said. “No-one can deny that difficult decisions must be made. However, our priority, first and foremost, is to make sure that the most vulnerable people in Leeds are protected.

“Drafting our proposed budget has meant taking some very tough decisions. We cannot sustain our current service levels – the money simply isn’t there to do that.”

Leeds is one of the few councils in the region to openly publish its cuts plans – many of which were revealed last year ahead of a public consultation – and the council has pledged to support the most vulnerable in the city, with police services, the elderly and children’s services receiving a relatively large share of the overall budget.

But few areas could be protected with the council having to save £150m over the next four years. The East Leeds leisure centre will be closed and community groups will be offered the chance to take it over. The opening hours at Garforth leisure centre will be reduced initially before facilities are also offered up for transfer to community groups.

Bramley Baths’ opening hours will be reduced and the Middleton leisure centre pool will close later this year – although there will be significant investment going into the leisure centre as a whole, including enhancing the sports pitches and providing new changing facilities.

There will also be a new charge for attending the Opera in the Park event, with tickets expected to be around £15.

Grants to arts organisations will be cut by up to 15 per cent, the council will stop its contribution to the Leeds city centre free bus and the number of libraries the authority runs is being reviewed.

Garden waste collections will be suspended for three months of the year, though general waste collections will continue as before.

The council will also look to what extra opportunities it has for advertising income and revealed it is working with Leeds-based supermarket Asda – at no cost – to see if there are other areas where money can be saved.

Two hostels – Hollies and Richmond Court – will also close, but alternative services will still be offered to Leeds’ homeless.

Coun Wakefield said he was extremely concerned by the prospect of rising youth unemployment – which in some areas of the city stands at 30 per cent – and therefore £500,000 would be invested in “jobs and skills projects” with £300,000 for credit unions.

He said: “We are in danger of losing a generation of young people to unemployment.

“We also recognise that many people will be struggling in what are very difficult economic times. For this reason we will be investing an extra £800,000 in jobs, skills and access to financial services.”

As well as the cuts to staff and services, senior councillors have agreed to a cut of three per cent to their allowances, which will also be frozen. Chief executive Tom Riordan will take a five per cent pay cut and the number of senior managers will be cut by 25 per cent.

Communications spending will be cut by £600,000, marketing and advertising budgets slashed by 40 per cent and there will be a £25m cut in procurement. The cost of office accommodation will be cut by £6m.

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