By John Baron and Richard Beecham
The West Leeds Country Park Visitor Centre in Pudsey Park could be axed in its current form – as Leeds City Council looks to cut more than 600 jobs across its services in next year’s budget.
Senior councillors at next week’s executive board will look to make huge cuts as the annual budget continues to take shape.
The popular centre in Pudsey Park keeps captive indigenous species ranging from birds, mammals and fish and explains the different habitats in the park and how they benefit wildlife.
It also offers guided tours and workshops are available for school or educational groups.
A council report says a consultation would take place ahead of any final decision and adds:
“If given the go-ahead, work would be undertaken to look at the potential opportunity of repurposing or replacing the existing buildings with a park café, which could retain some of the educational elements of the visitor centre.”
Farsley care home to close
Early blueprints for the 2021/22 budget also include a proposal to consult on the closure of two council-run care homes, including Richmond House in Farsley and Homelea House in Rothwell.
Richmond House is a 20-bedded residential service offering short-term care and support to people who require a period of recovery following a hospital admission. The service also offers support to people from the community to prevent hospital admission.
The report argues the council could save more than £700,000 a year:
“Richmond House is continually under occupied and the current type of provision can easily be assimilated in wider system provision.
“A formal minimum consultation period would be required, however everyone who receives a service at Richmond House either returns to their own home, is supported to bid for rehousing or moves to longer term care.”
A statement from the council added:
“Any decisions to move ahead with closure would include a full public consultation and work to identify other care home accommodation suited to the individual needs of residents currently living at both care homes.”
The cuts follow news that the council was facing a £119m budget shortfall for 2021/22, thanks partly to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on council services and revenue collection.
Leeds City Council leader Coun Judith Blake (Lab) has warned there would have to be further cuts to council services if Government did not provide a financial bailout in the coming months.
A report, set to be discussed in October’s executive board outlines an “overall anticipated reduction in the workforce for 2021/22 of 617 posts”. The council said it would “make every effort to avoid any compulsory redundancies being made”
Part of the proposals includes the closure of Otley (Ellar Ghyll) household waste and recycling centre, adding:
“If given the go-ahead, staff affected would be redeployed to vacancies on other sites or elsewhere in the service.”
The authority will also propose an increase in client contributions for adult social care services, while maintaining means-testing.
Both Lotherton Hall and Thwaite Mills will face reduced opening house, and Yeadon Tarn Sailing Centre is planned to be closed.
Opening hours and staffing rotas in community hubs and libraries across the district will be reviewed.
Leader of Leeds City Council Judith Blake said:
“The pandemic has had a huge impact on the council’s budget for 2021/22. The stark reality of the situation is set out in the proposals detailed in this executive board report where we have had to take some incredibly tough decisions on the services and facilities that we deliver and manage.
“The government rightly wants local authorities to take more of a leading role in fighting the pandemic. However, without significantly more funding from central government we will be fighting the virus with one hand tied behind our back, due to the devastating hole COVID-19 has blown in our budget.
“We have and will continue to do everything possible to ensure that the impact on our staff and the important services that the council provides is kept to an absolute minimum.
“This includes taking every step to ensure that any reductions in the council’s workforce do not include compulsory redundancies, and to protect where possible our vital front-line services. But the fact remains that in the current challenging climate of coronavirus and the subsequent huge rise in our budget deficit, this task is becoming greater as every day passes.
“As a prudent, well-run council we have a great record of balancing our budget year on year, despite dwindling budget settlements from government. It is though now impossible for us to do this alone given the new additional pressures of coronavirus, and as a matter of urgency further assistance is required nationally to meet the stark budget shortfall that the council faces. We will continue to engage and speak with government to press the case on behalf of the people of Leeds.”
The document will be discussed by members of Leeds City Council’s executive board on Wednesday, October 21.