Thursday, 6 February 2014

Council tax rise on table as council sets budget for 2014/15

After three years of freezing council tax in the face of heavy cuts Leeds City Council is having to recommend raising it by 1.99% along with a 5.9% rise in council house rents as it has to make a further £50m in savings.

As the council enters a fourth year of severe cuts to its funding it can no longer afford a council tax freeze and is also planning to lose up to 200 jobs next year. This is on top of over 1,800 that have gone in the past three years, including 25% of senior manager posts.

The council tax rise would represent an increase of 43p a week for a Band D household. Government grant reductions alone have taken £94m out of the council’s budget over the past three years, and this government funding is being further cut by over 10% in the coming year.

In addition, the government’s planned changes to the rent-setting formula will mean rents having to go up by 5.9% to balance a loss in income to the council of £3.5m from 2015 and £6.5m the following year in order to protect services to tenants.

This is set against a national backdrop that shows that by 2017-18, funds for local government in Yorkshire will have been cut by the equivalent of about £502 per person, compared to £352 per head in London and just £256 per head in the wider South East.*

A more direct comparison detailed in the council’s budget report demonstrates that the cuts in funding to Leeds over the past few years now mean it has nearly the same spending power per household (£1,851) as Wokingham (£1,837)- the third richest district in the UK.

Heavy pressures on services- particularly for those caring for vulnerable people- and other losses in funding mean that in setting a budget of £565.736m the council has to save nearly £50m this year.

This is despite enormous efforts over the past few years to run council services ever more efficiently on increasingly-tight budgets. Further efficiency savings have been identified for the coming year, including £5.4 million in procurement, on top of £25m already saved in this area over the past few years. A further £5.5m is expected to be saved from an ongoing review of back-office functions, along with a saving of £0.8m in the council’s insurance charges, including a move to bring the handling of claims in-house.

Additional income of £6.6m will be generated through fee increases and the council increasing trading its services to other bodies.

Councillor Keith Wakefield, leader of Leeds City Council, said:
“The past three years of sustained cuts to our budgets have been incredibly hard and it becomes more and more challenging to make increasingly-painful decisions. Yet we have managed, through enormous effort, responsible financial management and great determination to continue to deliver high-quality, good value-for-money public services as efficiently as possible. While developing a leaner, more efficient council, it becomes increasingly difficult to find further savings. We have to face the hard facts to keep the city financially healthy and reluctantly raise council tax and rents.

“Vulnerable people continue to be our most important priority- as supported by our public consultation- and we are prioritising what limited resources we do have into adults’ and children’s social services. We have also developed a concerted anti-poverty strategy, re-aligning our services to allow easy access to help, advice and direct support to those in danger of slipping into financial difficulties. While warning of the dangers of pay day lenders we also put people in touch with credit unions, prioritise housing needs and guide them on clear routes into sustainable work.”

Main areas of investment are adult social care, where £4.3m has been identified to address increasing demand on services, along with £4.5m for children in care, aligned with work to avoid them having to be looked after in the first place. A further £2.5m is being invested into children’s support services.

The city’s 57 children’s centres have been protected through successful efforts to achieve £1.6m in efficiencies in how they are run. Meanwhile, better working together with other agencies has resulted in £2.2m being saved as people are supported in staying in their own homes for longer.

The council’s customer services section is receiving another £214k to help deal with a 30% rise in calls to council tax and benefits advice lines. There will be a further roll-out of alternate weekly bin collections to increase recycling and reduce landfill tax, saving £1.2m.

Councillor Wakefield continued:
“While dealing with our budget challenges we also have to think ahead to ensure that Leeds continues to develop and that we have the skilled workforce to support it. We will continue to lobby for funding to re-balance disparities between regions, along with devolution of more powers from Whitehall to enable us to further influence growth.

“Forging future opportunity by intensifying efforts to attract jobs and investment continues apace and after the recent successful openings of the city’s arena and the Trinity shopping centre we look forward to the continues progress of schemes such as the imaginative Kirkstall Forge and Victoria Gate and the spectacle of hosting one of the world’s greatest sporting events, The Tour de France, as it sets off from our city.

“As for our future as the city’s main service provider, next year will see an even greater financial challenge with our government grant being cut by nearly £46m, more than 14%. We cannot continue to do more for less indefinitely, but we will take a firm leadership role in ensuring that these services are provided local people receive the best possible outcomes.”

The budget recommendations will be presented to Leeds City Council’s executive board on 14 February, before being considered by a meeting of the full council on 26 February.

Notes to editors: *Statistics from SIGOMA (Special Interest Group of Municipal Authorities), a body that acts as the collective voice of urban areas representing most of the large towns and cities in the Northern, Midland and South Coast regions of England http://www.sigoma.gov.uk



For media enquiries please contact:
Donna Cox, Leeds City Council press office, 0113- 224 3335
Email donna.cox@leeds.gov.uk
ENDS

Council welcomes inspector feedback on city growth masterplan

Leeds City Council has welcomed positive feedback from a planning inspector on its 15-year masterplan for the future planning and growth of the city.

The planning inspector has written to the council with recommended modifications to its Core Strategy. A key element of the strategy is providing 70,000 new homes in the city by 2028 which received backing from the inspector, along with suggested housing distribution across the city.

Leeds City Council’s executive member for neighbourhoods, planning and support services Councillor Peter Gruen, said:

“The inspectors’ recommendations are generally very encouraging and show that we’re on the right track with many key elements of the plan unchanged. He recommends some changes and we will need to consider their implications. It’s vital that we get the strategy right as once finalised it will be the key guide to all development and growth in Leeds for the next 15 years.

“Housing has always been a key element of the strategy which the inspector has recognised, accepting our ambitious target and the proposed distribution around the city, which will allow us to meet the needs of local residents.”

The core principals guiding the strategy are:
- An agreement to build more houses to address housing need
- A need for significant proportion of new affordable housing
- A strong focus on building on brownfield sites in order to promote regeneration and protect the greenbelt
- Fairness across the city, in terms of all parts of the city accepting some new housing
- Respecting and retaining community identities and character, rejecting possible suburban sprawl
- Infrastructure of services around new developments, such as schools and health services to also be carried out in a manageable and sustainable way

The council will now consider all the modifications and implications detailed in the planning inspector’s letter with a view to preparing a further progress report to Executive Board’s meeting in March.

The inspector will deal with outstanding issues of affordable housing and Gypsy and Traveller policy at further hearing sessions in May. It is anticipated that the Core Strategy will be adopted later this year and become the key planning document for Leeds.

To find out more about the Core Strategy and the inspector’s correspondence visit www.leeds.gov.uk and search for Core Strategy.

ENDS

For media enquiries please contact:
Laura Ferris
Leeds City Council press office,
Tel 0113 247 5472
Email: laura.ferris@leeds.gov.uk

Lakes at city park given spring overhaul

A range of work to improve three lakes located at one of the city’s most popular parks is now underway.

Over a six week period, each of the lakes at Temple Newsam park will be drained to allow machinery to remove silt and leaves that have built up over the years, with the mud rich in nutrients that is taken out being used as a soil improver at a nearby field.

Once this clearance is completed a number of other improvements will also be made, including repairs to some of the lakes edges, planting to improve water quality and securing the banks with a view to providing a haven for wildlife.

As part of the £106,000 scheme, which includes a grant of £45,000 accessed by GrantScape from the Caird Bardon Community Programme, the lakes will be safely fenced off and the lakeside paths and car park will be intermittently closed to allow access for machines and vehicles.

Visitors are asked to note, that the paths and roads from the lakes to the bottom of Avenue Wood and the Colton Fields may see additional traffic and experience more mud than usual. Safety signs will also be in place during the overhaul to inform people of the latest work which is being carried out.

Councillor Mark Dobson, executive member for the environment said:

"We are currently undertaking a range to work to enhance the lakes at Temple Newsam park, which includes removing the silt and leaves that have built up over the years, and undertaking various repairs.

"This scheme would not have been on the scale it is without the support of GrantScape, and I would personally like to thank them for all of their help.

"While this project is being completed it may potentially lead to some minor disruption for visitors, and we would ask the public to bear with us as this important programme of improvements takes place."

Alderman Keith Parker, Chair of GrantScape said:

"It will be great once this work is completed, to see youngsters from the local community being able to use the lakes for pond dipping once again and have the opportunity to see the wildlife and birds which will be attracted to the lakes."

Notes to editors:

GrantScape deliver a wide range of successful grant programmes. This includes presently managing grant programmes for five landfill operators, which includes Caird Bardon Limited in the Leeds Metropolitan District.

For more information, please see: www.grantscape.org.uk/

For media enquiries, please contact;
Colin Dickinson, Leeds City Council press office (0113) 39 51578
Email: colin.dickinson@leeds.gov.uk

Natural Beauty 2 photography exhibition set to open tomorrow



Pictures which will feature as part of the Natural Beauty 2 exhibition include:

Caption 1: Robin – 'Cheeky Robin', courtesy of Lance Featherstone.

Caption 2: Ladybird – 'Hold', courtesy of Nigel Pugh.

A new exhibition showcasing 100 spectacular wildlife images taken by keen photographers from Leeds and beyond is set to open at a city museum tomorrow.

The first display of its kind to open at Leeds City Museum, Natural Beauty 2 will showcase the winning entries from a popular wildlife photography competition held last summer which invited photographers of all ages and abilities to grab their cameras and enter. Divided into seven categories, the competition which attracted over 1000 entries was judged by a panel of judges who after much deliberation picked the final selection based on composition, creativity and uniqueness. Sitting on the panel included, professional photographer Sara Porter, and the Lord Mayor of Leeds, Councillor Thomas Murray.

From majestic lions on the plains of Africa, to the humble robin in the parks of Leeds this exhibition showcases the beauty and wonder of the wildlife all around us. In particular, it shows that you don’t have to cross the world to find the extraordinary – sometimes it is right here on our doorstep.

Beating over 1,000 other entries, winners of the competition will not know who has taken the top prize in each category until the awards ceremony at the museum tonight where winners will be announced and prizes can be collected.

The new exhibition, ‘Natural Beauty 2’, opens to the public on Friday February 7. Also taking centre stage in the display will be the three most popular pictures chosen from a 20-strong shortlist in the ‘People’s Choice’, a Facebook voting contest that gave members of the public a chance to vote for the pictures which didn’t quite make the final selection but which they thought deserved a second chance.

This exhibition also coincides with another display, ‘A Moment With Nature’, opening at Leeds City Museum from local photographer Tricia Thorpe, who works for ‘Time to Change’. This organisation challenges stigma and discrimination for people with mental health issues. Available until April 28 2014, this exhibition can be viewed in the Community Corridor of the Museum.

For more details on the exhibition and updates regarding Natural Beauty 2, please see: www.leeds.gov.uk/naturalbeauty, via Twitter @LeedsMuseums and on Facebook: www.facebook.com/LeedsMuseumsandGalleries

Councillor Lucinda Yeadon, Leeds City Council’s executive member for leisure & skills said:

"The response that we received from the public to the competition was really amazing, and it has been an extremely difficult task for our judges to decide which pictures should feature in the Natural Beauty 2 exhibition.

"The wait to see which shots have made the final cut will be revealed on February 7, and this is a great opportunity at Leeds City Museum to see the fantastic photographic talent of all ages that exists in our city and wider region."

Professional photographer and judge Sara Porter, said:

"It has been wonderful to have had the opportunity see so many fantastic images of nature not just in Yorkshire but also covering the UK and beyond. There have been some truly talented entries which of course created a really challenging job in trying to choose winners.

"I hope that this competition has inspired people to not just get out there with their cameras but also acts as a reminder to occasionally just stop for a minute and appreciate the beauty that is around us which we sometimes miss because it is a daily part of our lives. It has been a really honour to have played a part in this competition."

Notes to editors:

Natural Beauty is kindly sponsored by CC Imaging, Ark Display Graphics, Dale Photographic and Pictures Plus.

To find out more about Natural Beauty visit the webpage at www.leeds.gov.uk/naturalbeauty

Leeds City Museum is a free attraction located just up the steps on Millennium Square in Leeds city centre.
Admission free. Mondays closed (except bank holiday Mondays 11am-5pm), Tues, Weds and Fri 10am-5pm, Thurs 10am-7pm, Sat and Sun 11am-5pm.
www.leeds.gov.uk/citymuseum
Millennium Square, Cookridge Street, Leeds, LS2 8BH.

Free events
Inspired by the exhibition? Join us for a series of events and find out more.
All events are free, but you must book a place by calling 0113 224 4368.

Natural History Showcases
Explore the wonders of the natural world by getting up-close with our fantastic natural history collection.
11-12pm on 5 March, 2 April, 7 May, 4 June, 16 July
at Leeds City Museum

Photography Workshops
Join Exposure Leeds and learn how to do more with
your photography.
1-3pm, 16 March – Beyond Snapping, Leeds City Museum
1-3pm, 22 March – Themed Photowalk, Kirkstall Abbey
1-3pm, 16 April – Children’s Photowalk, Leeds City Museum

Photography competitions: A judge’s insight
Join Sara Porter, one of The Natural Beauty photography competition judges, in the exhibition and find out what makes a winning image.

Sara will talk you through some of her favourite images from the exhibition, as well as explaining what her and her fellow judges were looking for when they judged the competition entries on:
Thursday 13 February, 5.30-6.30pm, City Museum
Saturday 1 March, 2-3pm, City Museum

For media enquiries, please contact;
Colin Dickinson, Leeds City Council press office (0113) 39 51578
Email: colin.dickinson@leeds.gov.uk