Tough year ahead as Council budget cuts bite

Date: 27/01/2015
PR4855​

Public services in the Wakefield district are set to shrink as the Council faces unprecedented cuts in its funding from the Government.

Plans were set out last year for how the Council would save £23m in 2014/15 and £38m in the coming financial year 2015/16 – the single highest in-year saving the authority has ever faced.

The Council has cut £81m from its spending since 2011, including achieving its £23m target for the last 12 months. These savings are required as a direct result of Government cuts and equate to around 33% of the Council's budget by 2019/20.

Based on current Government indications, the Council is expecting to have to make further savings beyond 2015/16 through to 2019/20 to the value of £66m.

Council Leader Cllr Peter Box CBE said the 2015/16 budget report, which goes to the Council's Cabinet on February 3, would herald significant changes in services which residents could not fail to notice - and were likely to see as deterioration.

"Our funding has been cut so severely that the decisions we have to make now will have an impact on people's lives.

"Changes will be widespread from how often we can cut the grass in our parks to changes in services for children and adults," said Cllr Box.

"We can no longer protect services to children and adults because they account for 60% of our spending and we simply cannot meet growing demands without a fundamental review of what we do and how we do it.

"In making our proposals, we asked the people who live in the district and local businesses for suggestions on saving £38m. The feedback we received included increasing council tax and making cuts across the board, which reinforces what we are proposing.

"People who took part in our Your Choose survey clearly realise what lies ahead and how difficult our job as a Council has become.

"We have used the suggestions to finalise our long term budget plans, looking for opportunities to invest in the district and boost our economy as well as achieving these savings."

Some of the areas identified for capital investment over the next few years include:
• £57m in the District's Highways and Transport infrastructure and Street Lighting
• £44m in Schools
• £15m in Leisure in the Five Towns and South East of the District
• £14m on Disabled Facilities Grants and Adults Services
• £14m in Regeneration initiatives
• £11m in Housing initiatives

Cllr Box continued: "There is no doubt that budget cuts on the relentless scale we have seen make any investment very difficult. But this is a challenge we must meet because it is absolutely essential that we continue to invest in the future viability of the district.

"We must protect and support economic growth. We must invest to maintain our roads, schools and leisure facilities, to regenerate our towns and ensure our cultural heritage endures. Our vulnerable young people and older people still need our help and protection, and we have to invest to provide this support

"However there is a limit to what we can do and we are now perilously close to it."

As part of the budget, the Council is planning to increase Council Tax by 1.99%, an increase of 29p a week for a Band A property.

Cllr Box said the Government was continuing to limit the amount of money which councils could raise locally – another blow to budget.

"We believe an increase in Council Tax is the right thing to do and this is supported by 76% of people who took part in our public engagement.

In 2011/12 and 2012/13 we froze Council Tax, a decision which ultimately cost us over £6m per year in lost income. We knew this would happen and planned for it but we can no longer absorb the loss of this level of funding

"The Government offers 1% grants to councils which freeze Council Tax, but this would cost us £900k in lost income next year and £5m by 2019/20.

"Increasing Council Tax by 1.99% at least gives us the capacity to protect some of our core services, those which people depend upon most." he said.

Staffing levels are also likely to fall again a result of the reorganisation of services. Up to another 100 posts could go, which is on top of the 1,400 already predicted.

Between 2011 - 2014, 1,000 posts have already been lost, taking £1.5million from the monthly pay bill.

Joanne Roney OBE, Chief Executive, added: "The cuts coming in the next year will undoubtedly mean big changes to the way we deliver services to residents.

"We have to find new ways of working, new partners to work with and new ways to support communities and individuals as we meet the challenge of making these savings.

"Fewer people working for the Council means fewer or reduced services. 95% of our services are universal – affecting everyone in the district – so as we move into this new phase of making savings the impact will be considerable and noticeable."

The full details of the budget proposals are in the report going to Cabinet on February 3 and published on the Council's website www.wakefield.gov.uk/budget  

Savings being proposed include:
• £20m from adult services
• £2.5m on early years services
• £2.5m from reducing demand for reactive & specialist services for children and young people
• £2m from future delivery of property, buildings & facilities services
• £383k from stopping sport development activity
• £230 from further commercialisation of Pugneys
• £200k from the closure of Woolley Hall
• £125k from parks and open spaces
• £98k by increasing bulky waste collection charges

The budget will be presented by Councillor Box to the meeting of full Council on March 2. The meeting will be live streamed from the Council website at www.wakefield.gov.uk/livestream