Leeds City Council budget: Closures, job losses and services cut

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HOUSEHOLDERS in Leeds had already been warned to expect economy measures not seen since the 1930s and the city council has now confirmed a budget that signals job losses, service cuts and closures.

Campaigners opposing the cuts staged a noisy protest inside and outside the Civic Hall as councillors arrived for yesterday’s annual budget meeting.

With its Government grant slashed and facing the need to make savings of £90m, the Labour-run administration set a budget for 2011-12 that will see the council spend a net sum of £582m on running its services over the next 12 months.

Job losses – at this stage all voluntary – and a wage freeze will help the council chop its annual £440m wage bill by £45m. In March last year the council employed 14,566 people, excluding school staff, and by March next year the number will have dropped by 1,497.

The council currently spends £273m buying various goods and services and it intends to cut that amount by £25m.

Other key features include:

* The closure of the Leeds Crisis Centre and Vale and Stocks Hill day centres for mentally ill people;

* Closing East Leeds Leisure Centre, shutting the pool at Middleton Leisure Centre and reduced opening hours at Bramley baths and Garforth Sports Centre;

* Reductions in grants to arts organisations;

* Introducing charges for Opera in the Park and Classical Fantasia; Party in the Park will remain free;

* Deferring spending on new vehicles;

* Spending £6m less on council buildings.

Adult Social Services also expect to close four day centres for old people and four residential homes, arguing that demand for them is falling.

The city’s 53-strong library network is under review and closures of up to 20 have been mooted. The council is withdrawing cash from the free city centre bus service which now faces the chop. Charges at cemeteries and crematoria are going up by five per cent.

There will be no council tax increase as the council has received a government grant equivalent to a 2.3 per cent rise. An extra £11.2m will be pumped into children’s services, an additional £16.3m for adult social care and an extra £500,000 will launch a new jobs and skill initiative.

The Liberal Democrat and Conservative groups both put forward alternative spending plans which were defeated in a vote at the meeting. Liberal Democrats proposed taking money out of long-term cash reserves to save the free city bus, keep the Leeds Crisis Centre open for another year and to fund anti-crime measures, extra road maintenance and the introduction of 20mph zones in accident hot-spots.

Conservatives outlined plans to save the crisis centre, 20 of the city’s libraries along with proposals to maintain three leisure centres and the free bus.

They also earmarked £1.8m to help repair roads set funds aside to allow a reduction of central zone parking charges by 20 per cent.

Coun Keith Wakefield, council leader, pledged to work “against the tide of financial pressures” to deliver a budget that prioritises and protects services for the most vulnerable people, as well as investing in jobs and skills, community safety and street cleansing.

He said: “Some council services inevitably have to change, others will reduce and some will be delivered by other organisations. Our budget recognises this while trying to deliver services for those with the greatest need. Our budget takes account of what residents tell us they want.”

He expressed disappointment that a “cross-party approach” to setting the budget had not been achieved and that the opposition groups had tabled “unrealistic” amendments to the budget.

Coun Stewart Golton, Liberal Democrat group leader, said: “The council is at the moment wielding the axe over some really valuable local services such as the free city bus and crisis centre. We believe these services are too important to the city and would save them from being cut.

“The council is making a mistake by imposing drastic cuts on road repairs. This costs us more in the longer term as we have to pay out more in compensation claims to people whose cars are damaged by potholes.

“I’m extremely surprised that the council is choosing to bolster the council’s reserves at a time of unprecedented strain on council finances.”

Coun Andrew Carter, Tory group leader, said: “This budget round has been the toughest I have ever known. However, through our amendment we have demonstrated that it is possible, even in these austere times, to prioritise funding to frontline services if we cut back on wasted expenditure and back office budgets more aggressively.”

david.marsh@ypn.co.uk

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