By Don Mort, local democracy reporter
Additional reporting: John Baron
The rising cost of caring for vulnerable children is causing a multi-million pound shortfall as the council seeks to balance its budget.
Leeds City Council needs to slash almost £60m from its current budget as local authorities around the country struggle with reduced government funding.
The worsening financial position for Leeds includes a predicted overspend of £35.3m due to under-funding and inflation.
While most of the required savings have been found, an £11.3m shortfall has emerged, mainly arising from children’s social care, the council’s latest financial report said.
A meeting of the council’s Strategy and Resources scrutiny board was told the budget gap was being driven by increased charges from private providers for placing children in care.
Debra Coupar (Labour), deputy leader and executive member for resources, said the council had been lobbying the government for increased funding.
She said: “Unfortunately that’s not been accepted by the government at the moment.
“We do hope they will change their minds over the coming year and indeed make exceptions. Because otherwise we are going to see more local authorities unfortunately being in worse financial circumstances due to the cost of children’s services.”
Coun Andrew Carter, Conservative member for Calverley and Farsley, asked if there was a worst-case scenario for the council’s budget position at the end of the year.
He said: “And if that’s the case should it be shared with scrutiny now rather than us being given a nasty surprise later on?”
Victoria Bradshaw, chief financial services officer, said the situation was being closely monitored and a report would be given at the council’s February executive board.
The council is consulting on job losses, car parking charges and building closures as further budget cuts are needed next year.
Coun Jonathan Pryor, deputy council leader and executive member for economy, culture and education, said: “The reality is we are consulting on bad options, things we do not want to do.
“We have had 14 years of cuts. We have to face the cold reality of the financial position that councils are facing at the moment.”
Cllr Andrew Carter called on Leeds City Council to re-think its proposals for Pudsey Civic Hall.
“This looks like an officer tick-box exercise to me,” he said. “There has not been a proper marketing plan for the facilities at Pudsey Civic Hall since before Covid.
“The council have known for over two years that the car parking facility at Pudsey Civic Hall, used by businesses at Dawson’s Corner, was going to be used a lot less.
“The Civic Hall is a very valuable facility, used by many organisations, including for private functions, antiques fairs, vintage fairs, Dance Groups and the Blood Donor service, as well as many more; but there has been a distinct lack of will on the part of the council to properly and effectively market the facilities.
“I am calling on the Council’s Executive Board and leadership team to think again and put some proper business planning in place, and to retain this facility. The Executive Board councillor is coming before our Community Committee for Outer West Leeds at the beginning of February. I challenge him to bring forward proposals to keep this asset in place. Suggestions being made for groups who use the Civic Hall to move elsewhere are non-sensical.”
Leeds City Council is seeking to balance the books following a combination of reduced funding from central Government and rising costs. The building and land will potentially be made available for sale.
A council consultation document described Pudsey Civic Hall as a ‘financial drain’ and said: “Pudsey Civic Hall is one of the buildings that we are proposing to close because it does not make enough money. The venue also has investment needs to ensure that it remains attractive to event organisers given that the building lacks facilities necessary to operate as a profitable business. The Council is not in a position to meet these needs.
“We are not bringing forwards this proposal lightly and we are seeking your views on the proposal through this consultation.”
A public consultation into the closure of the Civic Hall can be found here.