Letter - ‘We face difficulties’ over cost-cutting says councillor

IN response to your letters page of October 12, I would wish to make the following points if you would allow me to do so?

First of all I would like to make reference to your report on page 11, where Coun Peter Box talks about more cuts having been announced over the preceding weekend, which means that over a four year period, our grants from central government have and are being cut by around £100m, that amounts to about 40% of the budget of the council. It is truly devastating.

But that is not all. Over many years now, the agenda for education has been that funds previously held centrally by the local authority be delegated out to schools, for them to decide how it should be spent.

Most schools decided that instead of attending courses at Woolley Hall, which was why it existed, they would instead organise training events in their own schools or elsewhere.

So the income to maintain Woolley Hall dropped and now the local authority is left with an under used facility, that is an ideal setting for weddings and other celebrations, something that the private sector will hopefully continue to develop.

Clarke Hall is the same. It was purchased to be a facility for a number of local authorities who all contributed from their centrally held budgets and schools attended for free. As changes came, the other local authorities left us and we have struggled, as schools have decided to use the facility less.

We managed to maintain it for the past few years from a grant from the Delegated Schools Budget, a fund whose distribution is determined by staff and governors, not the local authority. Again this budget has been changed and restricted to ensure that schools individually get more of the money available.

Finally, let me turn to our fantastic and wonderful music service. A service I have totally supported when other local authorities were cutting theirs. The Labour Government valued our service so much, that they gave us a grant to extend and support it. We were thrilled. This Government told us that from September 2012, we would no longer receive this grant (and that the 2011/12 grant would be cut by 10%).

Instead we would have to form a Music Education Hub, which we have done and then make a bid through the Arts Council. This involved a lot more restrictions and obligations on the service than we had previously experienced.

While we were successful with our bid, the amount granted, results in a cut of 50% to the budget by 2014/15. We have received assistance from the Delegated Schools Budget this year, but because of restrictions imposed on it, we cannot be assured it will be able to continue.

So officers were tasked with trying to make savings and yet continue this well loved service. Many of our staff are fantastic musicians, but do not have Qualified Teacher Status. Nineteen do. The paper that has been produced for consultation with the unions suggests that in line with other local authorities, they all be paid the same at the lower rate. Those receiving the higher rate because they have QTS will have their salaries protected for three years.

I hasten to add that no decisions have been made as yet, but I hope readers will appreciate the difficulties we are facing. The cuts are only just beginning to bite!

Coun Olivia Rowley

Cabinet Member for

Children and Young

People

Wakefield Council