‘It’s time to give Leeds a fair deal in Government funding’

BUDGET HQ: Tough decisions are being made at Leeds Civic Hall
BUDGET HQ: Tough decisions are being made at Leeds Civic Hall
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Leeds’s most senior councillor used a crucial budget meeting to send out a clear message to the Government - it’s time to give us a fair deal.

The council’s cabinet met today to finalise the 2015/16 budget, which had earlier been described as the most “brutal” in many years.

Council leader Keith Wakefield told colleagues it had been “extremely challenging” to balance out the numbers in the wake of a big slash in Whitehall funding - but praised the authority’s officers for managing it.

However he warned the city is still “on the brink” when it comes to safeguarding key services for the most vulnerable.

The city’s final Government funding settlement for 2015/16 will be £268.1m. It has increased by £1.15m, after the city was awarded part of an additional £74m cash pot announced by Local Government Minister Kris Hopkins “to recognise that councils have asked for additional support”.

However it still represents a 15.4 percent overall slash, making a “marginal difference” to the city’s overall spending power, according to the council’s budget report. The city’s total revenue budget for next year - including its own income from taxes, rents, etc - is £522.632m, an eight per cent overall slash from last year.

Coun Wakefield said that while the authority welcomes the extra £1.1m, the money in fact replaces £2.8m the council lost when another social welfare fund was scrapped,

And in a further jibe at the coalition, he questioned why Wokingham - a Tory heartland which is the 3rd richest local authority in the country - was receiving £91 more per household than Leeds, despite Leeds facing “far more challenges and pressures”.

“We need a much fairer system of funding,” he said.

Coun Wakefield had earlier warned the authority must make “grim choices” as it tries to find £76.1 million of budget savings next year.

As part of wide ranging cuts and income-generating measures, council tax is set to go up by almost two per cent for the second year running.

Council house rents are also set to be hiked by almost three per cent, and hundreds more jobs are to be cut.

The detailed budget dossier presented to the panel referred again and again to “pressures” the authority must cope with across all departments - and warned that things will get worse.

The report said: “Further reductions in Government grant of the scale suggested by the Autumn Statement will fundamentally challenge the services provided by the council.

“It is clear that if the council is to meet this challenge, recognising that it will be considerably smaller than it is now, the council needs to quickly move forward in shaping what it will look like by 2019/20, developing the council plan, its workforce planning as well as its financial plans. This work is a critical priority over the next 12 months.”