Children, OAPS and motorists could all be hit next year as Leeds City Council tries to slash another £51m from its overall running costs. Aisha Iqbal reports on some of the proposals being considered.
Children, pensioners and working families could all be hit hard by Leeds council budget proposals for 2013/14, campaigners warned today.
The authority is bidding to slash another £51m million from its annual budget, as revealed by the YEP yesterday.
More than half the planned savings - to be rubber-stamped by the executive board next Wednesday - will come from cuts to the children’s services and adult social care budgets.
Among the wider cost-cutting measures is a plan to scrap some school transport services for special needs youngsters over 16, and pupils from faith schools.
Nursery charges for subsidised childcare provision in children’s centres is also set to go up by £2 per day, equating to £520 a year for working parents.
Other measures on the table include a planned quick rollout of controversial fortnightly bin collections, and new Sunday night and evening charges for city centre parking.
Subsidies for bereavement services, and support for recreational facilities like bowling clubs and allotments, could also be dumped as part of a wide-ranging review designed to save money and generate income.
Keith Wakefield, leader of Leeds City Council, has admitted that the scale of cuts the city faces is “unprecedented”.
Defending the budget proposals, he said: “We are looking at all areas of the council to find savings, including some that we hoped we would never have to consider.
“We remain determined to do all we can to improve the lives of people in Leeds. The council is in an incredibly difficult position, but we are determined to work through this as a city.”
He added: “I have been committed to public services all of my life, working in and representing local government for 40 years. However, the government’s massive spending reductions, the like of which have not been experienced since the 1980s, have disproportionately affected northern cities like Leeds. We are left with no choice other than to reduce services and look at new ways to raise much-needed income.
“Grants to local councils have suffered the biggest cuts of any area of central government funding. In Leeds we have to save an additional £50m on top of the £145m we have already saved by cutting staff, changing services and making huge efficiencies.
“Cuts on this scale mean there is no option other than radical, and often painful, changes.”
Fortnightly bin collections plan will save city £1.4m
Controversial plans to introduce fortnightly bin collections citywide remain a priority for the council next year, with the hope of slashing the city’s waste and recycling bill by £1.4 million.
The budget report says: “It is proposed to implement alternate week collection of recyclable and residual waste citywide.
“By March 2014, this enhanced service for the collection of recyclable will have bene rolled out to 150,000 or 44 per cent of properties in Leeds.
“Further rollouts will occur in the following financial year, with the intention that 80 percent of households will ultimately be in receipt of this service.
“Not only will this development lead towards a reduction in the council’s waste disposal costs, it will also contribute toward increasing the overall level of recycling across the city.”
Lib Dem councillor Rick Downes said there were “advantages” to fortnightly bin collections but stressed council bosses had “missed a trick” by not rolling out a food waste recycling scheme that had already seen some success in a pilot scheme in some wards.
He said the council had also put together a “naive” – and ultimately failed – plan for £13m Government funding to keep weekly collections.
“It’s absolutely right to have fortnightly green bins but the council have failed to consult on fortnightly black bins,” the deputy leader of the Lib Dem group said.
“They have missed out on the funding for weekly bins and are now stuck in a no-man’s land.
“The critical thing is to increase recycling. We need to look at ways to increase that in the future, and food waste is the key.”
There are also plans to ban commercial companies accessing the city’s household waste sites for “illegitimate disposal of commercial waste”.
Parking levy is ‘punitive’
A campaign group for motorists says any new Sunday and night time car park levy for the city centre could be seen as unfair and “opportunistic” – and could be counterproductive, by forcing motorists out of the city centre in their droves.
As part of its budget strategy for next year, Leeds City Council is considering introducing a new charging policy for Sunday parking in the city centre, along with the extension of evening car park charges to cover all off-street car parks as well as on-street parking.
Estimates suggest it could save the authority £100,000 next year.
Paul Watters, head of public affairs at the AA, said it was important to show that the council was not “profiteering from drivers”.
“It’s no good having punitive charges in the evening if you want cities to be busy and revitalised,” he said.
“If a city is devoid of cars in the evening, there’s an economic edge to that.
“Councils are short in the coffers, and it is a way of making some revenue, but they really need to attract people not deter them.
“If it’s only £1 it could work, but it could also be the final thing that drives motorists out of the city centre.”
The council launched its “comprehensive review of city centre car parking” in August this year. The review identifies how many car parking spaces there are currently and how future developments in the city will impact them. It also looks at occupancy trends, pricing and income generated.
Children’s services to go
THE council is proposing to save around £1 million by raising its nursery fees for subsidised childcare provision in children’s centres by £2 a day, and by cutting subsidies for learning improvement and music projects.
It also wants to slash the free school transport bill by almost £3 million in the next two years, by cutting services for special needs schools and stopping subsidised transport for faith schools.
The 2013/14 budget report said: “The current policy includes discretionary provision represented in the availability of free home to school travel to faith schools; post 16 mainstream transport to schools/colleges and also home to school/college transport for young people with special educational needs, between the ages of 16 and 25.
“These proposals recognise the need to review, with effect from September 2013, the continuing discretionary provision.”
Defending the budget proposals today, council leader Keith Wakefield said: “Our priority, first and foremost is to make sure the most vulnerable people in Leeds are protected. We are determined to do everything we can to minimise the impact of national cuts on families in Leeds.
“But make no mistake about the severity of the challenge we face.”
Overall spending on looked-after children, meanwhile, is set to be reduced by “at least” 15 percent, as part of an £18 million review of the Children’s Services budget.
‘Lifeline’ bowling clubs could lose out
Bowling greens and bereavement subsidies have both been placed in a budget hit-list of services for which the council feels “there is no strong case of social need being met”.
Subsidies to maintain bowling greens – which the council says are equivalent to £133 per bowler – could be scrapped.
Options being considered include closing some greens in parks where there are multiple facilities, and passing on some of the maintenance costs to members.
Jean and Barry Tebbs, who help run Bramley Bowling Club, said bowling clubs are lifelines to members, the majority of whom are pensioners.
Mr Tebbs said: “Pensioners are going to be squeezed by this when you ask them to pay more. “If they take this away, what social life will people have?”
Mrs Tebbs added: “I don’t think people will be too happy because they will have to pay more subscriptions.
“I think every bowler in Leeds will be concerned by this.
“The bowling pavilions we have in Leeds are already deteriorating. We do already try to be self sufficient, and put work into it.
“I would rather they cut it from us than from the children though.”
The scrapping of subsidies for bereavement charges is also being considered. The council currently provides cremation and burial services at a loss to everyone. Any changes would come in over three years, although hardship grants would be available.