On Wednesday, Labour-run Leeds City Council, with the support of the Green Party, voted through a budget to cut services. The Council meeting was delayed by two hours after around 100 protesters occupied the council chamber and had to be removed by police. £90 million in savings this year had to be found – around half of this is down to a reduction in grants from the Government while the other half is due to the administration overspending this year.
Labour have said they will have to close around 20 Libraries, several leisure centre’s, a crisis centre, scrap a free city centre bus, close crèches and cut back on road repairs. They claim they have trawled through every line of the budget and can’t possibly find any more savings and have no choice but to cut front line services.
Of course Labour and the Green Party claim there was not alternative. But the Conservative opposition presented an alternative budget which was voted down.
Cllr Alan Lamb, Shadow spokesman for Children's Services and Education, reports:
In preparing an amendment to Labour’s proposals we have always been clear that, unlike Labour nationally, if we wanted to oppose a cut we had to find an alternative saving somewhere else. Given the Government’s grant to freeze council tax and the scale of savings that need to be found we accept the overall level of the budget of just over £582 million. Here are some of the amendments we proposed;
All 20 libraries can be kept open for £270k per year. We would do this by cutting back on IT across the council by £300k. Given that the workforce will shrink by around 1/6 over the next 4 years this should be easily achieved.
We would save three leisure centre’s threatened with closure at a cost of around £780k. This would be found by cutting the budget for tables and chairs (£300k), reducing glossy publications (£210k), cutting stationary budgets (£200k) and cutting the equalities budget (£100k) with the remaining amount from other savings.
We would retain the invaluable free city centre bus which brings valuable business & shoppers to the city centre at a cost of £189k. This would be funded by increasing car parking capacity at one site (40k), a reduction in the advertising budget (£133k) and by scrapping parking charges at Temple Newsam House (£17K). You did read that right, the council currently raises £23k for charging to park at this popular venue, it costs £40k to collect the money! This is typical of how councils up and down the country operate.
We would save the Leeds Crisis Centre at a cost of £471k. This service helps some of the most vulnerable people in our city. We would take this money directly from reserves, some of which is replaced by left over savings from our other proposals.
We could keep leisure centre crèches open at a cost of £68k. This would be funded by stopping translating council documents into different languages saving £70k.
Labour propose to cut £250k from Area Committees, we would reverse this by stopping council departments using non-council venues for meetings/conferences saving exactly £250k.
This will allow more money for local district and town centre’s to address local priorities, meeting the needs of local people more directly. We have found a further £397k in a similar way to fund schemes locally to tackle crime and anti social behaviour.
Leeds is one of the most expensive cities to park in anywhere in the country. We would boost business and shopping by cutting charges by 20% at a cost of £580k. This would be funded by introducing new parking meters in three areas of the city.
We would invest £750k in apprenticeships by re-prioritising £500k Labour had earmarked for a vague job scheme as well as cutting the amount of money the council pays trade unions (£150k), reducing training budgets (200k) and other staff savings (321k).
Labour has decided it wants to spend £1.8 million on a new website while cutting a similar amount from the budget for road and footpath repairs. We would reverse this decision
We actually feel there is scope for many more savings and will be continuing to pore over the figures in the coming weeks and months. We also believe there are many cuts hidden within their budget that we don’t yet know about it. For each one we don’t agree with we will find a saving somewhere else. The chief financial officer of the council has confirmed that our proposals are robust and achievable.
The changes we’re proposing represent a tiny fraction of the overall budget. We have shown that with a little imagination, budgets can be trimmed without cutting valued & vital services. Labour have deliberately chosen to cut sensitive services for political gain. Conservatives in Leeds have shown that there is another way.