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‘Worst Christmas gift ever’ – Leeds receives just £0.5m in extra cash from government to help plug Covid budget gap

Words: Richard Beecham

Leeds City Council’s deputy leader has accused the Government of giving the authority the “worst Christmas gift ever” as it was announced just half a million pounds of extra cash would be available to plug the council’s next year’s mammoth budget gap.

It means the authority could soon be announcing even further cuts to its services next year, after it confirmed extra Government cash would not come close to plugging its budget gap for 2021/22.

Local government secretary Robert Jenrick announced this week the provisional finance settlement for local authorities, which many hoped would help fill huge financial deficits caused by Covid-19 pandemic.

Following “clarification” from government, it was today revealed Westminster would provide Leeds City Council with a further £500,000 of funding, which would not even fill the financial gap after the authority makes hundreds of planned job losses next year.

Leeds City Council had been facing a £118m financial black hole for 2021/22, but had published a series of planned cuts over the past few months, which cumulatively added up to more than 900 job losses and the closure of numerous facilities and community centres.

But these had only reduced the deficit down to £5.3m, meaning the remaining £4.8m gap would need to be accounted for.

A statement from Leeds City Council read:

“When compared to the Government’s November spending review announcement there has been little change although there has been further clarity around some of the funding streams and as a result the council estimates that it has additional resources of £0.5m for next year.

“The final local government settlement which is anticipated to be received in February next year will confirm this £0.5m increase which will be used to address the estimated budget gap of £5.3m for 2021/22 which was reported to the council’s Executive Board this week.”

Leeds City Council deputy leader James Lewis said:

“It’s the worst Christmas gift ever.

“The Conservative government is expecting the council to pick up many of the costs of Covid with limited help from Westminster to support vital services that people rely on like social care, bins and libraries.

“After 10 years of austerity, which now means over £250m-a-year cut from the grant that the council receives to support services, people’s council tax is being stretched further and while services are at risk of being axed.” 

Speaking to a meeting of the council’s Executive Board on Wednesday, Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake (Lab) said: “So we still don’t have the final settlement before us and the proposals put forward by executive board have been put forward for consultation.

“There is still a lot of work to do before we get to the final budget-settling meeting in February.”

Council deputy leader James Lewis added: “When we come to February, we will have to deliver a fully-balanced budget, and this still doesn’t exactly balance at this stage. We are waiting for the settlement and other moneys.

“The money for adult social care we thought we were receiving as a grant and instead gave us the option of raising more council tax in the form of the adult social care precept.”

Leeds Conservative leader Councillor Andrew Carter (Calverley & Farsley) said financial issues in Leeds were at least partly self inflicted with at least half the budget deficit pre-existing budget pressures not related to Covid-19:

“What Leeds residents should remember, even before the impact of Covid-19 and due to poor financial management by the current administration, is that the Council faced difficult financial decisions and obviously that situation has been made a lot more difficult by the impact of the pandemic, which is undeniable.

West Leeds Dispatch is monitoring cuts in Leeds via our Cutswatch series here.

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