City faces £90m cuts in drive for budget savings

THE impact of the Government's savage savings programme on Yorkshire's biggest council has been laid bare as Leeds City Council yesterday announced it needed first-year cuts of £90m, with the cutting of 1,000 jobs.

The authority must save more than 150m over the next four financial years and anticipates cutting staff by 3,000. However, because the Government frontloaded the cuts, the majority of savings are needed by March 2012.

Compulsory redundancies have not been ruled out and council leaders have warned no areas of expenditure will be protected.

Increased demand for services is adding further pressure on the weakened budget, with social care departments particularly strained.

The council has launched a number of initiatives to combat the problem.

Some services could be merged with other public sector organisations, previously free events such as Opera in the Park are likely to now demand charges and a redundancy scheme has been set up.

Leader Keith Wakefield warned that "pain is inevitable" due to economic measures "the like of which have not been seen since the 1930s".

Coun Wakefield said: "Inevitably, setting next year's budget will be a very painful process. We simply cannot continue to do all the things we do now and some services will be vastly reduced, or stopped altogether.

"I firmly believe, however, that our main responsibility is to continue to provide for those people who most need our help and support, and this is where we are focusing our efforts, along with as many other front line services as we possibly can.

"Nobody comes into public service to make cuts like this, but the truth is that the cuts are already made before the money reaches us."

Initial proposals for next year's budget, due to be presented to a meeting of the executive board next week, estimate a funding shortfall for the next financial year of 90m, which is made up of a 50m cut in the Government grant and an anticipated 40m increase in demand for services.

The demand for services are outlined as an additional 16.3m for adult social care, 11.2m for children's social care, 1.2m for the council's waste strategy, a reduced car parking income of 1m, a further 1m to cover the five year investment in new street lighting and 10m to cover the costs of existing capital commitments.

The report details some areas where savings can be made – with jobs being the biggest cut.

The council currently spends 442m a year on staff and up to 30m could be cut from that budget. In addition the council will maintain its current recruitment freeze into next year, and all staff have been invited to accept voluntary severance, early retirement or reductions in hours worked. So far around 1,700 people are understood to have put themselves forward.

Cutting the number of agency workers used and reducing the fees paid to agencies is expected to save 2m.

The council also aims to cut most departments, transport needing to make savings of 3m and payments to other providers – such as social care – needing to cut 10m.

Public consultation on the cuts, due to finish on December 17, is under way and asks which services ratepayers want to see prioritised.

HOW THE AXE IS LIKELY TO FALL

The council has outlined a number of proposals to make savings of 150m, including:

Changing the way the council provides care for the elderly;

Reducing spend on the roads to "core maintenance only";

Closing under-used or outdated buildings including day centres, libraries, and even some sports centres;

Charging for some events and increasing charges for some activities and services;

Reducing the workforce by up to 3,000 over the next four years.