Council tax rise planned in ‘near impossible’ situation at Leeds City Council

Leader of Leeds City Council Coun Keith Wakefield (Lab).
Leader of Leeds City Council Coun Keith Wakefield (Lab).

A further cut of £45.4m to Leeds City Council (LCC) is making the situation ‘near impossible’, according to council leader Keith Wakefield (Lab), and will mean a council tax rise.

The budget for 2015/16 to be discussed by the executive board on February 11, 2015, before being approved by full council on February 25, includes a 1.99 per cent increase in council tax as Leeds looks to manage another cut in its core funding from government.

By March 2016 it is estimated LCC will have received about £180m less in total core funding, representing a drop of more than 40 per cent in five years.

As well as the council tax rise, the budget will also see council housing rent increase by 2.88 per cent and fees and charges will go up by at least inflation.

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.

“It cannot be right that Leeds and authorities in the north are getting hit with massive cuts for another year while some of the most affluent parts of the country in the south get either no cuts or even an increase in their spending power. That is deeply unfair.

“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.

“We wish there was another way but all the choices are just brutally hard no, and if as some say we are only halfway through austerity I fear for the future of councils and public services as more and more nationally-respected groups and bodies are saying this is already dangerously unsustainable.”

Following the release of initial budget proposals in December, a period of public consultation followed with more than 500 new responses indicating a preference where possible to protect frontline services especially for vulnerable children, young people and adults.

In line with those views, children’s services and adult social care account for a combined 60 per cent of LCC’s total budget for 2015/16, with a revamp of services being carried out in both areas to offer a multi-agency approach offering a more localised and improved service to families and older people.

LCC has committed an extra £500,000 next year to help vulnerable children and young people, while it is also providing £800,000 for the local welfare support scheme to help those facing severe financial hardship, and £250,000 to help residents with severe disabilities living in adapted properties who have seen their housing benefits reduced so they can continue living in their own homes.

The council itself will continue to get smaller as an organisation, with a reduction of a further 450 full-time equivalent (fte) staff, meaning by March 2016 it will have lost 2,500 ftes in five years.

The budget details reductions of opening hours at leisure centres and contact centres as well as cuts to grants to third sector groups such as arts organisations and the advice agency.

Nursery fees will rise by 5.1 per cent, but all 57 children’s centres in the city will continue operating.

Bereavement charges will increase by four per cent, while the number of ‘breeze on tour’ summer events will be cut from three to one.

The highways maintenance budget is to be cut by six per cent and community centres in the city are currently under review.

A review is also to be carried out of all household waste recycling sites across the city, while the roll-out of alternative weekly bin collections will continue, covering 76 per cent of properties in the city by summer 2015. The garden waste collection service will also be extended to residents who previously did not receive it.

LCC will raise additional new income from public advertising and new temporary car parking, while it will also work closer with the West Yorkshire Combined Authority as a deal devolving powers and responsibilities to the Leeds City Region is awaited.

Coun Wakefield said: “Despite things being so tough, it is a measure of the resilience and determination of our city and its people that we continue to get on and make things happen, be they events or major new developments.

“It gives me immense pride to see people in Leeds making the very best of every situation, as showed with the amazing Tour de France Grand Départ last summer.

“Times are incredibly hard, there’s no escaping that, but despite such obstacles Leeds as a city continues to deliver and progress and that should be something we can all be proud of.”