‘Letter of reassurance’ issued to all Wakefield Council staff over its financial position

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All Wakefield Council employees have been sent a “letter of reassurance” over the local authority’s financial position, a meeting heard.

The moves comes after the council announced last week that it would have to make “difficult decisions” to plug a £35.6m funding gap in the next financial year.

A full review of fees and charges for Wakefield Council services is being carried out in an effort to balance the books.

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But cabinet members insist the council is in a “resilient financial position” compared to other authorities.

Wakefield Council leader Denise JefferyWakefield Council leader Denise Jeffery
Wakefield Council leader Denise Jeffery

Last month, Birmingham City Council declared itself effectively bankrupt by issuing a section 114 notice to signal that it does not have the resources to balance its budget.

In August, Kirklees Council announced a freeze on all essential spending to avoid a similar fate as it looks to make savings of £47.8m.

In Wakefield, the funding gap over the five-year period to 2028/209 has been put at £86m.

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A mid term financial financial strategy (MTFS) report identifies measures designed to tackle the crisis.

Wakefield One, Wakefield Council's headquarters building.Wakefield One, Wakefield Council's headquarters building.
Wakefield One, Wakefield Council's headquarters building.

Discussing the report with cabinet members, council leader Denise Jeffery said: “While there are difficult decisions to be made, the council remains in a resilient financial position.

“This is testament to the tough decisions that we have taken over the previous years.”

Les Shaw, cabinet member for resources and property, said: “Unfortunately, we are seeing 13 years of austerity coming to fruition.

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“Although we have got some challenges ahead of us, we are certainly in a better position (than other authorities).

“We should relay that to the staff. This is a worrying time for all people working in the public sector.

“We value our staff. We are all worried about the financial position, but we should put the information out that we are not in the same financial position as a lot of other organisations.

“We will be constantly working over the next two or three years to make sure we don’t get into that sort of position.

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“It isn’t good. It is going to be testing. But we are up for the test.”

Coun Jeffery replied: “A letter has gone out from the chief executive (Andrew Balchin) to all staff reassuring them over the position we are in.

“I am pretty confident that by the time we have to present the formal budget to council (in February), we shall have balanced the books.

“As elected members we shall make some tough decisions over the next few months.

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“We will be sitting down and looking at our capital programme and how we can make some savings.

“We can’t keep chipping into reserves. We have reserves which are much stronger than many other authorities.

“But if we just continue to rely on reserves, then in years to come we won’t have that.”

In April, the council put an end to two-hours’ free parking at car parks across the district in order to generate revenue.

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Other cost saving measures outlined in the document include a review of all directorates and how the council is structured.

A £2m reduction in the staffing budget across the authority has been identified due to “ongoing recruitment and retention challenges”.