Housing, health, jobs creation and tackling poverty will be the key priorities for Leeds’s most senior councillor as the city looks ahead to a year of big financial challenges – but also further opportunities to shine.
Coun Keith Wakefield, leader of Leeds city council, said helping the thousands of families struggling to make ends meet was very high on the authority’s agenda in 2014. He warned that after major Government funding cuts, tough times are still to come. But he stressed that successes like Trinity Leeds and Sports Personality of the Year – and coming highlights like the Tour de France Grand Depart and a possible European City of Culture bid – meant that there is “a very big buzz” about Leeds like never before.
Coun Wakefield said cutting services, and 1,800 council jobs, had been among his toughest decisions of 2013, and there were “massive challenges ahead”.
He admitted the council doesn’t always get it right, for example with the ill-fated residents’ parking scheme plan, which had been “a very blunt instrument”. He said deciding to close several OAP care centres had also been “difficult”.
“I think we have learnt about consultation, being transparent, and there have probably been some other decisions where we could have done with telling people well before we have to do it,” he said.
“We can always do better, that’s the challenge. We are trying to run services demonstrably more efficiently with less money. That’s why the council is here. The job is making sure that we tell everybody that we will still be here, even if we are cut.”
Coun Wakefield will be pushing hard for regional devolution in 2014, stressing that the council only raises 11 per cent of its income at local level through taxes, and “devolution is one way of getting resources and responsibilities back”.