Special report: The £1 billion cost of council cuts in Yorkshire

THE full extent of the devastating local authority cuts inflicted upon Yorkshire this year is laid bare today as analysis shows the region’s councils are slashing spending on local services by over £1 billion.

As Sheffield City Council yesterday became the 21st of the region’s 22 councils to agree savage reductions as part of its new budget for the coming financial year, a study of local authority spending plans across Yorkshire confirms the region is now experiencing the biggest attack on local services in living memory.

Almost 15,000 job losses have now been announced by the region’s councils as services for the elderly, vulnerable and young are scaled back as never before.

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Kirklees Council will next month become Yorkshire’s first authority in modern times to withdraw social support for elderly and disabled people with “substantial” care needs, meaning only those whose needs are deemed critical will be offered care services.

Across the region at least 15 day care centres and 13 residential care homes for the elderly and disabled have been earmarked for closure as councils face the reality of their grant funding being cut by 27 per cent over the next four years.

Youth services are being scaled back drastically in almost every part of the region, with schemes aimed at keeping youngsters off the streets and halting the rise of violent extremism among a lengthy hit-list. School bus services will also be cut, as will transport for the elderly and disabled.

The cuts also include the 65 public libraries in Yorkshire which have been earmarked for closure so far, along with a massive reduction in opening hours and staffing levels.

Two swimming pools and one leisure centre will also close this year, along with at least five tourist information centres - mostly in market towns across North Yorkshire where visitors flock during the summer months.

Sheffield Council yesterday confirmed its plans for spending cuts totalling £80m this year, rising to what it estimates will be £200m by 2015 - the highest in the region. Barnsley Council will be the final authority to agree its budget this coming Thursday.

The drastic cuts announced at every authority have sparked widespread public protests, and are likely to have a sizeable impact on the local elections which will be held at almost every council in two months’ time.

Wakefield’s Labour leader Peter Box warned his Conservative and Liberal Democrat opponents that they will be “toast” on May 5 as voters realise the scale of the spending cuts imposed by the coalition Government upon every local authority. Lib Dem-led councils in traditional Labour areas such as Hull and Sheffield look particularly vulnerable following the party’s dismal showing in Thursday’s Barnsley by-election, where it finished in sixth place.

Council leaders of Hull and North East Lincolnshire, Carl Minns and Andrew DeFraitus, were among 90 senior Lib Dem councillors who wrote an open letter to local government minister Eric Pickles protesting the size and scale of the cuts he has imposed.

Leading Conservative councillors too have been highly critical of the cuts. John Weighell, the Tory leader of North Yorkshire County Council, wrote to Mr Pickles in December to protest a funding settlement he described as “unfair” and “devastating” for public services in the county. The Conservative opposition leader at Leeds City Council, Andrew Carter, said Mr Pickles should have fought the corner of local councils “far more robustly” against cuts from central Government.

Mr Pickles remains unmoved, however, despite the scale of the cuts in services now unleashed by local authorities in Yorkshire and across the country.

A spokesman for his department said last night: “The Government has delivered a tough but fair settlement ensuring the most vulnerable communities were protected. Councils knew tough decisions lay ahead, and many are showing they can find savings to help cut the deficit whilst protecting frontline services.

“Ministers have been clear throughout that shared services are just one of a range of options councils should consider to protect frontline services, including: clamping down on senior pay, joining forces to procure, reducing property overheads, drawing on reserves, cutting out non-jobs and rooting out the over-spends.”

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