Words: Richard Beecham, local democracy reporter
Despite 11 years of cuts, Leeds City Council is STILL likely to need to make budget savings of more than £120m over the next three years, according to a document published this week.
The council has made cuts to services every year since 2011, while demand for services over the past decade has risen sharply.
The past year saw the deepest cuts yet, as the authority had to contend the increase in demand for services and loss of revenue caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, and saw spending services shrink further by around £87m.
The new document, set to go before next week’s council Executive Board meeting, shows the authority is likely to slash services by another £126.7m over the next three years.
Council officers have conceded that “difficult decisions” will have to be made, but that it would ensure the organisation becomes more “financially resilient” in the future.
The deepest cut is expected to come next year (2022/23) with £65.4m of savings needed, £48.1m needed in 2023/24 and £13.3m in 2024/25.
Despite this, the paper claims council officers have so far only identified £20.6m of savings to make over those three years, meaning another £106m worth of cuts need to be found from somewhere.
Of the cuts already identified, the council plans to save around £5.7m over three years on fostering services, by creating a council-run service for foster children with high needs, rather than paying outside agencies.
It also plans to introduce a flat 10 per cent cut to all older people’s and charity organisations that did not receive a funding reduction this year.
This means Age UK Leeds, Trinity Network, Community Links, Young Dementia Service, Touchstone Sikh Elders and Advonet will all see cuts to their council funding worth £71,000 in total.
Other proposed savings include £50,000 a year on mental health services.
Leeds City Council’s revenue budget for 2010/11 was set at £582.228m. If this had been maintained and adjusted for inflation by 2020, the budget would have stood at £763.452m. The council’s actual revenue budget for 2020/21 was £525.7m, meaning the authority was effectively almost £238m down on spending in the previous decade – and that was before the coronavirus pandemic.
During this time, the council’s revenue support grant – its general spending money which comes from central government rather than rates – reduced by more than 90 per cent from around £254m to £28m.
The paper stated:
“The financial challenge savings programme aims to protect services that support the most vulnerable whilst ensuring that the organisation becomes more financially resilient and sustainable for the future.
“However, the scale of the gap over the next three years is unprecedented and closing it is likely to mean difficult decisions will have to be taken that will impact across the council’s services, affecting service users, residents, businesses, partners and staff.”
West Leeds Dispatch‘s Cutswatch series has been following proposed council budget cuts over the past few months here.