Sunday, March 3, 2024

Budget crisis sees buildings closures, service changes and price increases proposed by Leeds City Council

Building closures and sales, new car parking charges, service and staffing reductions and price increases are among wide-ranging changes being proposed as Leeds City Council sets out its annual budget plans for next year.

The council has published its initial budget proposals for 2024/25 which will be discussed by senior councillors at the executive board meeting at Civic Hall on Wednesday 13 December. The proposals identify ways to save a further £58.4million in the year ahead alongside £7.4m of already agreed savings to deliver the required balanced budget.

The key elements proposed include:

  • Council tax to increase by 4.99 per cent (with two per cent of this dedicated to support adult social care funding)
  • To explore options to reduce opening hours at community hubs and libraries across the city
  • Knowle Manor Care Home in Morley to close due to the building not being adequate for future care provision, Dolphin Manor Care Home in Rothwell to be repurposed to become a recovery hub
  • Reviews of fees and charges for adult social care in Leeds
  • Review of council-managed children’s centres and Little Owls nurseries, based upon sufficiency need and financial viability
  • Review of fees and pricing for the hiring of community centres in Leeds
  • Charging proposed to be introduced at car parks at Barley Hill Road in Garforth, Netherfield Road in Guiseley, Fink Hill in Horsforth and Marsh Street in Rothwell. Consultation on introducing charges at two car parks in Wetherby is already underway
  • Car parking charging proposed to be introduced at Middleton Park, Roundhay Park and Temple Newsam Park. Initial consultation has already been undertaken about introducing charges at Golden Acre Park and Otley Chevin Forest Park
  • Pudsey Civic Hall which operates at a loss to be closed and potentially made available for sale
  • Council to seek to end lease at Thwaite Watermill Museum (Thwaite Mills) through discussions with owners Canal & River Trust
  • Bulky waste removal charges to remain free for each household’s first collection and then be reintroduced for more than one collection in the same year
  • Council staffing levels 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) with ongoing trade union consultation to avoid compulsory redundancies

As confirmed by the council in September all assets and services are being continuously assessed and reviewed to see how they can help mitigate the financial position. The council has also enacted a freeze on recruitment, as well as on non-essential spending except where necessary for health and safety or statutory reasons.

The financial difficulty being experienced across local government reflects issues being felt nationally as a result of rising costs and demand for services, especially for looked after children, those with special care and education needs as well as for adult social care, together with an unfunded nationally-agreed pay increase for council staff.

These are all factors that have been cited as contributing towards the recent announcements from councils that are issuing Section 114 notices, meaning they are unable to set a balanced budget as is required of all councils every year.

The position in Leeds also reflects the impact of funding reductions, cost increases and demand pressures for council services since 2010. Between 2010 and the end of 2024/25, the council will have had to deliver savings totalling £795million in that period. The balance of how the council is funded has also significantly altered over that time.

In 2013, the Revenue Support Grant from the government accounted for 35.6 per cent of the council’s annual budget, with 39.9 per cent coming from council tax and 24.4 per cent from business rates. For next year the Revenue Support Grant is expected to be just 5.5 per cent of the annual budget, with council tax funding 68 per cent and business rates 26.5 per cent, indicating a clear shift away from national government funding to locally delivered taxes underpinning the funding of local services people rely on.

The latest Revenue Support Grant figure will be confirmed following the local government finance settlement expected shortly before Christmas.

After previously calling the system of local government funding “broken,” the Leader of Leeds City Council Councillor James Lewis is clear that council services will have to change with the aim of avoiding the financial difficulties being currently experienced by councils around the country.

Leader of Leeds City Council Councillor James Lewis 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.”

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

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