Cash-strapped Leeds City Council unveils cost-saving measures amid 'dire' financial position

Cash-strapped Leeds City Council has unveiled a series of cost-saving measures as it seeks to avoid bankruptcy – and bosses admit the axing of services is unlikely to be popular.
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The sweeping budget proposals include the closure of buildings, new car parking charges and the equivalent of 750 jobs at the authority being done away with.

People in the city can also expect a council tax rise from April.

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There was a sombre tone in Civic Hall today (November 5) as the authority's chief executive and two of its top councillors set out the measures for the 2024/25 budget that they said they’ve been forced to take. During the discussion, the financial position was described as “dire”.

Leeds City Council has unveiled a series of what are likely to be "unpopular" cost-saving measures amid what top councillors have described as a "dire" financial position. Photo: National World.Leeds City Council has unveiled a series of what are likely to be "unpopular" cost-saving measures amid what top councillors have described as a "dire" financial position. Photo: National World.
Leeds City Council has unveiled a series of what are likely to be "unpopular" cost-saving measures amid what top councillors have described as a "dire" financial position. Photo: National World.

It comes as the council needs to save a further £58.4m in the year ahead, alongside £7.4m of already agreed savings to deliver a balanced budget – which is a legal requirement placed on local authorities.

If it is unable to do that, then the council would effectively be declaring bankruptcy, as has been the case for Birmingham City Council and Nottingham City Council.

The key elements in the budget proposal include council tax increasing by 4.99% in April, libraries having to look at reducing their opening hours, and a review of council-run children’s centres.

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On top of that, Knowle Manor Care Home in Morley is to close as the building is “not adequate for future care provision”, while Dolphin Manor Care Home in Rothwell is to be repurposed as a “recovery hub”.

Another measure that’s likely to prompt backlash will be the proposal to introduce charges at car parks including Barley Hill Road in Garforth, Netherfield Road in Guiseley, Fink Hill in Horsforth and Marsh Street in Rothwell. Consultations on introducing charges at two car parks in Wetherby are already underway.

The council will also look at bringing charges in for popular parks. They are Middleton Park, Roundhay Park and Temple Newsam Park. Consultations have already been undertaken for doing the same at Golden Acre Park and Otley Chevin Forest Park.

Pudsey Civic Hall which operates at a loss is to be closed and made available for sale.

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The council will end its lease at Thwaite Watermill Museum through discussions with owner the Canal and River Trust.

While bulky waste removal charges are to remain free for each household’s first collection, it will cost residents to have more than one collection in the same year.

And as previously mentioned, council staffing levels are to reduce by up to 750 full-time equivalent posts by the end of the 2024/25 financial year – the council currently has approximately 3,440 fewer staff than it did in 2010 – as discussions with trade unions continue to avoid compulsory redundancies.

All of the above plans will be discussed by senior councillors at the executive board meeting at Civic Hall on December 13.

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It was confirmed by the council in September that its services were being assessed in an effort to alleviate financial pressures. It already has a freeze on recruitment, as well as on non-essential spending.

The position reflects that of other councils across the country because of rising costs and an increasing demand for services.

Between 2010 and the end of 2024/25, Leeds City Council will have had to deliver savings totalling £795m. But the balance of how the council is funded has changed massively in that time.

Whereas previously a big chunk of funding came from the government, the council will be relying much more on council tax contributions and business rates. The latest Revenue Support Grant figure – which is the amount the government contributes – will not be confirmed until just before Christmas.

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Coun James Lewis, the Leader of Leeds City Council, said: “We know some of the proposals we have set out today will be unpopular as they will have a challenging impact on people’s lives.

"As is increasingly being seen around the country, councils have only very difficult choices left to use to balance their budgets, meet the needs of residents and not risk being driven to the point of financial distress. Local government cannot continue in this way, it simply isn’t workable.

“In the immediate short-term, we call on the government to use the upcoming finance settlement to provide the urgent help all councils clearly need, especially in the face of the rising costs and demand in children’s services to help support and protect our most vulnerable children and young people.”

Council bosses said the authority remains committed to being a welcoming city with a strong economy. It was praised for it operates last year following a peer review by the Local Government Association.

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The difficulty of the financial position is further shown by an overspend of £35.3m in the current financial year, while there is also a projected expectation to save another £60.6m in 2025/26 and £46.1m in 2026/27.