Jobs and community centres to go in Wakefield Council’s budget - £27m to be slashed

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Community centres could face closure and hundreds of council staff could lose their jobs under cost-cutting plans revealed by Wakefield Council.

The council must make £27m of savings in 2016/17 in order to balance its budget, on top of the £119m it has already made during the past five years.

And council leader Coun Peter Box has said “almost every service” will be affected.

He said: “Many councils are being pushed to the financial edge but we are doing everything we can to prevent that happening in Wakefield.

“We are determined to continue to drive efficiency, be innovative, develop more partnerships, support economic growth and invest in the future of the district.

“However, 2016/17 will see many of the services we provide tested more than ever and the results mean some visible changes to what we do.

“Each year we have managed to divert the impact of the cuts from most of our frontline services. We will continue to do this but the public will start to see a difference.”

As part of its budget, the council is proposing to increase council tax by 1.99 per cent, generating £1.2m.

And it will add a government-recommended two per cent ‘social care precept’ to help address a funding gap for adult social care. The council spends around 60 per cent of its budget - £140m - on social care every year and the demand for it is rising by five per cent annually.

Coun Box said: “The 2 per cent Social Care precept will raise £2.1m, which is no more than a sticking plaster on a gaping wound.

“Social care is a huge issue for every council in the country, however with the size of this district’s ageing population the funding gap will continue to grow.

“I strongly believe that the responsibility for funding this lies with central government, not local residents.”

He added: “Last year, I asked residents and businesses to help us shape our budget around what matters most to them. The feedback has guided our decisions and refocused our priorities.

“It was clear from the budget consultation that the universal services - like bin collections, road repairs, litter clean up and park maintenance - are the services people rely on and value the most, and that they understand the need for these to continue.

“Almost two thirds of the people who took part in the consultation suggested raising council tax.

“We also believe this needs to be done, because if we don’t, then the effects of the cuts will be even harsher.”

Around 200 council staff could lose their jobs under the plans, on top of the 1,425 posts already removed.

A further 800 could be transferred under a TUPE agreement to a partner, which has taken over the running of its ‘property and facilities services’ department.

Wakefield’s Chief Executive, Joanne Roney OBE said: “We have made significant savings on our staffing costs since 2010/11. More than £3.7m has been taken from the monthly pay bill – in real terms - and we have reduced management costs by more than 30 per cent.

“Our frontline staff now make up over 80 per cent of our workforce, but with continued staff reductions and funding cuts the impact on the services we provide will be very visible and will be felt across the district.”

Coun Box added: “The biggest savings will come from the fundamental transformation of the way we work. We have already made significant progress in this area but in the future, services will have to be delivered in a different way.

“All services will be affected in some way. However, residents have told us what is important to them and we have worked extremely hard to ensure that the impact on these services is kept to a minimum.”

Savings being proposed include:

• £1.25m by reducing commissioned services and posts in Public Health

• £2m from the delivery of the property and facilities partnership

• £2m by developing a more commercial approach to service delivery

• £50k from a review of home to school transport

• £140k from the possible transfer of three community centres or by examining closure proposals

• £35k by reducing the budget for Council funded events

• £150k following a further review of the district wide provision of libraries

• £150k by ceasing the delivery of the Visitor Information Centre and reducing tourism provision

• £70k by reducing opening hours in leisure centres

• £169k from a review of the car parking policy

• £100k from the reduction of the health and wellbeing service

• £42k by reducing grass cutting

• £30k from an increase on the charge for bulky waste collections

• £15k by increasing the cost of replacement bins

Despite the cuts, the council is proposing a £200m investment programme up until 2018/19.

The plans include:

• £79m in the district’s transport and highways infrastructure and street lighting

• £40m in schools

• £15m in leisure facilities in the Five Towns and South East of the district

• £13m on housing and regeneration

Coun Box said: “Investment will be harder than ever, but it is this focus that will secure the district for the future. This is why we will deliver a £200m capital investment programme to maintain our roads, schools and street lighting, build new leisure facilities, support the creation of affordable housing and regenerate our towns and communities. I will also be proposing to council that a £700k capital fund is devolved to local areas for small, local infrastructure projects.

“We will continue working with our partners in the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and the Leeds Enterprise Partnership to draw even more funding into the district. Last year we secured major investment for projects like the £33m Wakefield Eastern Relief Road and £3.5m for the University Centre and there are more bids in the pipeline for 2016.”

The budget will be discussed by Wakefield Council’s cabinet on 16 February at a special Cabinet on Tour meeting, held at Castleford Civic Centre from 10.30am. Members of the public are encouraged to attend. The meeting will also be live streamed from the Council website at www.wakefield.gov.uk/livestream

The 2016/17 Budget will be presented by Coun Box to the meeting of full Council on March 2 and can also be watched on the Council website.