‘Don’t be short-sighted’ plea to Leeds council bosses after budget bombshell

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Leeds council bosses should be wary of “short-sightedness” as they put into place budget plans which could see families hit with a four per cent council tax rise next year.

That’s the view from one political opponent after the authority revealed proposals to raise council tax by 1.99 per cent next year, as well as imposing a new two per cent social care levy to offset Government cuts to frontline care services.

More than 250 council staff are also expected to be axed in 2016 as city leaders try to plug an expected £87m Government funding gap. 2,500 roles have already been deleted since 2010.

Under the new plans, the annual council tax bill for an average Band D property - currently £1,368.29m - would go up by around £53.

Responding to the proposals, Stewart Golton, leader of the opposition Lib Dem group on the council, said: “The cuts that have happened so far have not been felt by most people, apart from obvious signs of weeds in gutters and unpatched potholes.

“However these latest cuts will have a far bigger impact and it is inevitable that this will be more widely felt by people across the city.

“Whoever is in charge of the council has an even greater responsibility in hard times to ensure that our money is directed to where it is needed most and that we invest in different ways of delivering services.

“Too often this council has been short sighted and left Leeds open to a whole series of risks, for instance they have effectively privatised adult residential care and left us in the hands of the private care providers.

“The council has to get better at helping communities take control of local services and has been short sighted in failing to develop communities to enable them to deliver services that council can no longer afford to deliver itself.

“I get the feeling that sometimes the council would rather let a vacuum develop than put power in the hands of local people. Too often the council views them as amateurs lacking in the skills and expertise to take control of services in their own areas.”

Meanwhile councillor Barry Anderson (Conservative, Adel & Wharfedale ward) admitted that “clearly this looks like being a tough funding settlement” for Leeds from his party’s Government.

But he stressed: “We will be scrutinising the figures carefully to ensure that the administration is not overstating the case, as has happened in the past, and to make sure that the council is making best use of the resources it has available.”

Council leader Judith Balke warned yesterday that “austerity is not over, another incredibly difficult year lies ahead” as she revealed details of the initial proposals for the 2016/17 financial year.

A new report detailing the council’s financial position for next year warns of further cuts of £24m to Government core funding, leaving an overall funding gap of £87.2m for next year. It adds to the more than £180m already slashed from the city’s public purse, a drop of more than 40 per cent since 2010, and families have been told to expect a further 30 per cent fall by 2019/20.

The news comes in a year which has already seen Leeds’s public health funding reduced by £2.8m. Further cuts will mean an estimated reduction in health grant of £3.9m in 2016/17 and £25m less to spend on public health priorities in Leeds over the next five years.