Leeds Council unveils massive £76m cuts plan - fears for future of public services

Leeds city centre skyline.

Leeds city centre skyline.

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A £76million council cost-cutting exercise will put public services already near “breaking point” in Leeds under further pressure, it has been warned.

The mammoth figure has been revealed as part of cash-strapped Leeds City Council’s revised budget proposals for 2016/17, which will go before the local authority’s executive board next Wednesday.

The budget plans were revisited after it emerged that the council is set to receive £35m less in core funding from the Government – a position £10m worse than expected – in the next financial year.

In addition, a growing demand for services, rising costs and a near £13m reduction in business rate collections means the council is seeking savings in all areas.

Coun Judith Blake, Leeds City Council leader, has warned that the city faces “another major challenge” as it seeks further cuts following a six-year period in which its core Government funding has been reduced by more than £180m.

She said: “No-one should be under any illusions that this is going to be anything other than an incredibly difficult time for delivering much-needed public services.

“That said, as a council we will do all we can to minimise the effect of the cuts on vulnerable people.”

She continued: “Under-resourcing public services is a false economy that stores up problems for the future. The long-term need for services such as health and social care will only increase as preventative services, such as those funded through public health budgets, are drastically cut.

“We have seen in recent weeks council leaders from across the political divide, in all areas of the country, speak out against the effect of cuts on local government, which I think shows the cuts are now pushing services to their breaking point.”

Coun Blake said Leeds has been hit harder by Government cuts than many other authorities – a 12.5 per cent cut compared to the 10.3 per cent average for core cities.

In a bid to deal with the reduction, the council’s budget plans include the loss of a further 299 full-time jobs next year, council tax is set to increase by the maximum 1.99 per cent, while an additional two per cent ‘precept’ will go towards adult social care funding.

Council fees and charges are due to rise by around three per cent, the authority will introduce the £8.01 per hour living wage for staff although social housing rents will reduce by one per cent next year in line with Government policy.

The council aims to prioritise services for vulnerable older and young people and is looking to engage with communities to find new ways of offering some services.

Meanwhile work continues on the European Capital of Culture 2023 bid and plans to host part of the Tour de Yorkshire and Columbia Threadneedle World Triathlon Leeds in 2016.

Coun Blake added: “The difficulty is that with reduced budgets, council tax and our other funding streams are being stretched more and more each year with our public health and social care budgets being particularly worrying.

“With the role of the council changing especially in terms of its size and resources, now is the right time to have conversations with all elements of the city about the best way forward for the future.”

A public consultation on the council’s budget has been carried out and following next week’s meeting, the budget will be finalised at the meeting of the full council on February 24. For further information visit leeds.gov.uk/budget.

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