By David Spereall, local democracy reporter
Job losses within Leeds Council are “inevitable”, one of the authority’s most senior officers has said.
The council said last week that up to 750 full-time posts could be cut over the next 18 months, as it stares down a black hole in this year’s budget, which currently stands at £30m.
The dire situation has been blamed on the spiralling costs of placing vulnerable children in the care of fostering agencies and privately run children’s homes, in some cases miles away from Leeds. The prices of these placements have doubled in the last two years, local councillors were told at a scrutiny meeting on Monday.
But given the local authority has a legal and moral obligation to look after Leeds’ most vulnerable children and adults, the cutbacks are likely to be made in other departments.
Victoria Bradshaw, the council’s chief finance officer, said redundancies would be necessary as some services would stop.
Asked how likely job losses were, Ms Bradshaw said the council was being “re-based”, as it looks at what it can afford to provide.
She said: “That means we’ll have to either stop, significantly reduce or reduce some services by certain amounts.
“So inevitably there’s going to be job losses, unfortunately.
“How those jobs are identified is what we’re working through at the moment.”
Ms Bradshaw indicated that staff who remain would not be expected to take on more responsibilities as a result of the cutbacks.
She added: “We know through our staff surveys that people’s workloads is an issue.
“We can’t just keeping reducing (the council’s headcount) and expect people to work longer hours and more and more time. That affects their mental health and their wellbeing.
“That’s why we’ve got to do this re-base and it will mean we have to reduce or stop some services.”
Ms Bradshaw confirmed that the council would have to use some of its reserves at the end of the financial year in March to help balance the books, in addition to the cutbacks.
Such a move is rare, the council having done it for the first time in living memory at the beginning of 2023, after inflation and the soaring cost of energy wiped millions out of its accounts.
Councillors were told that efforts were being made to create more local placements for children in care, in an effort to bring down costs.
Local authorities have to pay fostering agencies or private children’s homes to accommodate looked after children, when they’ve no homes or foster carers of their own available.
Ms Bradshaw said: “It’s the costs of those placements which is what’s really causing the pressure.
“We’re hoping to get eight new small living accommodation (facilities) open within the city (for children in care).
“The children and families service is well on with doing that now.
“But it’s not just around getting the actual buildings. It’s around staffing those buldings and then being able to being able to safely move those children back from wherever they are. We have to try not to unsettle them, because it’s obviously a big transition for them.”
Despite the grim financial predicament, the council has insisted it will not go the same way as Birmingham, which effectively declared bankruptcy last month.
Among the biggest problems facing Birmingham is a £1bn compensation bill for former staff who’ve won equal pay claims against the local authority.
But Leeds councillors at Monday’s scrutiny board were told similar legal cases here were settled some years ago and the authority has no “outstanding” equal pay claims against it.