Thursday, 2 February 2012

Council leader issues rallying cry as £55.4m budget reduction announced


While acknowledging that “decisions are getting tougher and tougher” Leader of Leeds City Council Councillor Keith Wakefield has announced that “innovation, enterprise and creativity” will be at the heart of an annual budget designed to save a further £55.4million.

Details of the council’s annual budget for the coming financial year were unveiled today, with the second year of the government’s reduction in public spending meaning £26.4m less funding for Leeds. Added to this is £29m of cost pressures resulting from increased demand for vital services such as social care. This follows a year in which savings of £90m have already been made.

The key priorities which underpin the council budget for 2012/13 are as follows:

- Protecting vulnerable people, especially the young and the elderly
- Promoting jobs, apprenticeships and economic growth through innovative working, creating partnerships and targeted local investment
- Keeping Leeds communities safe and clean
- Helping protect the voluntary sector from the impact of funding cuts
- Encouraging a new leadership role for councils of working with all sectors of the city to protect and deliver improved services

The budget is to be recommended for approval at next week’s executive board meeting before being discussed and ratified by full council at its meeting at Civic Hall on Wednesday 22 February.

Leader of Leeds City Council Councillor Keith Wakefield said:

“Everyone will be aware that last year’s financial challenge, in terms of savings we needed to make, was unprecedented in its severity. We had to make lots of exceptionally difficult and painful decisions, and I’m afraid the bad news is that the challenge facing us is only going to get tougher in the years to come. We will keep having to make cuts to an annual budget getting ever smaller.

“This year we have again focused on protecting the most vulnerable members of our communities, and doing what we can to limit both price rises and cuts to frontline services. We are committed to doing all we can to protect these services but our challenge remains a significant one.”

Among the budget spending proposals is a rise in the percentage spend on children’s services and adult social care in Leeds from a combined 52.4 per cent in 2011/12 to 55.1 per cent in 2012/13, an overall increase of £18.6m.

Job creation and providing opportunities for young people is a key element of the budget, with the proposals including:

- £1.75m for economic initiatives that can deliver jobs, training and apprenticeships, such as the creation of an Apprenticeship Training Association in partnership with Leeds City College
- £200m long-term capital investment in major projects such as the Leeds Arena and Trinity Leeds shopping centre, building programmes and road maintenance, creating an estimated 3,000 new jobs
- £15m investment over three years to support innovation and economic initiatives
- £100,000 on a new programme to encourage the top 100 companies in Leeds to promote jobs and skills and attract investment through the Leeds City Region

Councillor Wakefield added:

“Despite the ongoing financial challenges we face, this budget must deliver positive initiatives that provide training opportunities for our young people, encourage economic recovery and ensure that Leeds continues to develop as a regional capital economically and culturally. As a council and as a big local employer we have a huge role to play in shaping and influencing the future of this city.

“Job creation, especially for young people, is absolutely essential if we are to achieve our aim of becoming the best city in the UK. In order to secure positive futures for our young people we are very keen to work with voluntary groups, public sector organisations and private businesses as well as building on existing neighbourhood relations and networks to create new opportunities for training, apprenticeships and jobs.”

As part of a range of measures to realise the cuts of £55.4m, the budget proposals include:

- Cutting council staffing costs by £9.7m in 2012/13 as part of the continued drive to reduce staff numbers by 2,500 full-time equivalent posts by March 2015
- £6m savings in transport, procurement and contracts
- Income generation across services of £7.8m
- Working with other councils and public organisations, such as the NHS, to provide joined-up services
- Restraint on council staff pay and councillor allowances
- More efficient use of council premises
- Building on the success of greater collaborative working between council departments – for example, in delivering more community bases for people with learning disabilities such as at the John Charles Centre for Sport in 2011/12.
- Using one-off/short-term payments such as council tax grant (£6.7m), New Homes Bonus (£5.3m) and Private Finance Initiative reserves (£9.9m)
- Using £6.9m of council reserves to transform council services and to secure long-term savings – for example, taking action to reduce the council’s reliance on external care placements

The council has also opted to accept the government’s one-off grant in order to freeze the council element of council tax bills for 2012/13. At the same time a switch to alternative-week recycling and waste bin collections will be piloted to cut costs, encourage greater recycling and to reduce landfill costs.

In housing, the council has chosen not to adopt new government-advised targets of raising rents, service charges and garage rents by nine per cent but instead proposes a rise of 6.8 per cent to ease the pressure on family finances. This move is combined with a commitment of an additional £16.3m of housing stock repairs, which will create jobs as well as improve homes.

Councillor Wakefield added:

“The decision to accept the government’s council tax freeze grant was a difficult one due to uncertainty over the impact next year but we think it is right to help families who are struggling. In the case of housing rents we have tried to be as fair as we can to help people as much as we can.”

Investment will also be made in town and district centres, with an extra £500,000 being spent over three years to tackle derelict and nuisance sites which blight local communities.

In community safety, funding levels for police community support officers (PCSOs) are to be maintained, while the Leeds Burglary Reduction Programme is to be further developed and £25,000 invested in new CCTV cameras in Chapeltown and Hyde Park.

Other proposals include an additional £250,000 to be made available to the voluntary sector to help reduce the impact of wider funding cuts, while a new homelessness hub will offer a place to stay for 72 hours and help in securing a home. Helping make Leeds a greener, more energy-efficient city, the ‘Wrap Up Leeds’ campaign will offer free insulation and cavity walls to assist up to 15,000 households to cut their fuel bills.

The impact of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games will also be seen in Leeds, with the iconic Olympic Torch coming to the city twice in June, while some of the world’s leading athletes will also be heading to Leeds to train ahead of the Games.

A commitment of £180,000 has been made in the budget proposal for Olympics activities in Leeds, with the amount of inward investment in return from hosting international teams alone expected to be over £300,000. The Games will also play a key role in inspiring young people in the city to achieve, something which would be reinforced should any of the Leeds-based athletes repeat the success of Beijing in 2008 and win medals.

Ahead of the budget-setting process, consultation was carried out with all parties on the council, trade unions, the third sector, the business sector and Leeds Youth Council. Leeds residents were also consulted through the ‘About Leeds’ newspaper and the council website.

The budget recognises and reflects the fact that the role of the local government is changing. No longer simply a service provider, Leeds City Council aims to become a galvanising force which provides leadership by bringing all sectors of business and society together in a spirit of ‘civic enterprise’. Through the collaboration of people from all sectors the council hopes new ideas, skills, knowledge and experience will both protect and enhance services and the quality of life for residents in Leeds.

Leeds City Council set up the Commission for the Future of Local Government last year, and Councillor Wakefield, who is chair of the commission, explains:

“They say out of necessity comes invention. The current financial position means the council must innovate, and encourage a wider sense of enterprise and entrepreneurship, if we are to lead the city forward. That is what civic enterprise is about. How can all sectors contribute more to the life and the future direction of our city ?

“Now is the time to start really changing how we do things both as an organisation and as a city. This involves delivering services using new ideas and new methods. A good example of this is a broader range of services being offered to older people across Leeds through neighbourhood networks. By using the idea of social enterprise and accessing community resources, local people in places such as Gipton, Beeston and Armley are benefiting from receiving a much more personalised service than ever before and one they are in control of themselves. We are also particularly keen to see businesses play a key role in encouraging aspiration in our young people by offering apprenticeships and training opportunities.

“As a council alone we do not have all the answers and we never will. Civic enterprise is about working together to come up with better solutions and then delivering them to make a real difference. Everyone in the city can get involved in that, and if the legacy of the current financial hardship we are all experiencing is that it brought the whole city together in this way it would be something for everyone to be hugely proud of.”

Notes to editors:

The Leeds City Region Partnership brings together the eleven local authorities of Barnsley, Bradford, Calderdale, Craven, Harrogate, Kirklees, Leeds, Selby, Wakefield, York and North Yorkshire County Council to work with businesses and partners toward a common prosperous and sustainable city region in areas such as transport, skills, housing, spatial planning and innovation. For more information visit www.leedscityregion.gov.uk/

The Private Finance Initiative (PFI) is the mechanism by which school improvements have been carried out in Leeds through the ‘Building Schools for the Future’ programme as well as the creation of the new Armley and Morley leisure centres and the new wellbeing centre at Holt Park.

ENDS

For media enquiries please contact:
Roger Boyde,
Senior communications officer,
Leeds City Council, Tel 0113 247 5472
Email: roger.boyde@leeds.gov.uk