OPPOSITION leader Coun Andrew Carter has hit out at Leeds City Council chiefs for paying millions in overtime payments and “handsome payouts” to outgoing staff ahead of further cuts to jobs and services.
Council leader Coun Keith Wakefield (Labour/Kippax and Methley) has said the local authority is “at the brink of a financial meltdown” as it faces a £45.4m cut to its 2015/16 budget.
The council’s budget proposals include a 1.99 per cent council tax rise, a hike in council housing rents of 2.88 per cent, a 5.1 per cent increase in nursery fees, and the loss of 450 more jobs.
By March 2016, Leeds will have received around £180m less core funding over five years – a drop of more than 40 per cent.
Coun Carter (Conservative/Calverley and Farsley) has questioned how the council has responded to the significant budget cuts since 2011.
Coun Carter said: “During this period the council has paid out over £7m in overtime payments in one year (2012/13), spent £73m on a staff Early Leavers’ Initiative, continues to spend millions on agency staff and, despite a reduction in staffing of 178 people in the current year, will increase the overall pay bill to over £412m by the end of March 2015.
“Certainly there are significant challenges, but are these the actions of an organisation that has no choice but to cut frontline services? I think not.
“Coun Wakefield, by sleight of hand, tries to infer that there have been job losses in Leeds. However, with about 12 exceptions, all the job reductions have been voluntary and resulted in handsome pay offs for staff who volunteered to leave early.”
Coun Carter said 2,298 Leeds City Council workers have voluntarily left the authority since 2011 under the Early Leaver’s Initiative.
The budget proposals will be discussed by the council’s executive board next Wednesday before going to the full council meeting at 1.30pm on Wednesday February 25 at Leeds Civic Hall.
Coun Wakefield said: “The budget-setting challenge this year has been the most difficult I have ever been involved with, facing choices none of us would ever want to make but there is simply no other way, the money is just not there anymore.
“We have done everything we can to try and protect our most vulnerable residents as best we can, but I’m afraid it’s a near-impossible task and I’m sad to say over the next 12 months people will be suffering as a result.”