Leeds City Council has shed 1,800 jobs over the past two years as it battles to cope with public spending cuts and increased pressures on its services.
And a further 1,200 could go over the next two years as the country’s second biggest local authority seeks further savings on top of the £90m achieved last year and the £55m it is aiming for in the current financial year. The 1,800 jobs gone – through early retirement or voluntary severence – amount to 12.5 per cent of the workforce, excluding teachers.
Now Coun Keith Wakefield, council leader, has accused the Government of “moving the financial goal posts” as the cuts the council faces over the next two years are deeper than expected.
Under the government’s comprehensive spending review, the council had expected a 0.8 per cent funding reduction in 2013-14 and 5.6 per cent in 2014-15. The figures have been amended and the reductions now proposed are 5.8 per cent and 8.6 per cent.
After announcing a one per cent cap on public sector pay awards last autumn, the Government is also seeking to claw back additional cash by claiming its original funding allocations had assumed a two per cent pay increase.
In addition, ministers are “top slicing” council funding by £2bn nationally to pay for the New Homes Bonus scheme,
under which local authorities receive a cash bonus for new houses built or homes brought back into use. For Leeds to recover its share of that £2bn, estimated at about £30m, 21,000 properties would have to be brought back in to use over the next 6 years.
Coun Wakefield is concerned that schemes like the New Homes Bonus mark a significant shift in national policy with future funding for councils being determined by housing and business rates growth, rather than the needs of residents. He said: “It is hugely worrying that growth, rather than need, will now determine how much money a council receives. This will inevitably benefit the south-east but will do nothing to address significant needs within northern cities like ours.
“We will do everything in our power to protect vulnerable residents and prioritise front line services - but there is no getting away from the fact that the scale of these funding cuts means that it is getting more and more difficult as each month goes by.”