Service cuts across district set to worsen

Peter Box after announcing budget proposals' 'LOCATION:  Wakefield Town Hall
Peter Box after announcing budget proposals' 'LOCATION: Wakefield Town Hall
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SERVICE cuts across the district are set to get worse as Wakefield Council announced it must cut £71m from its budget - up £4m from previously estimated figures.

On Tuesday, council leader Coun Peter Box and chief executive Joanne Roney revealed the figures, which will be considered by the council’s Cabinet on Tuesday.

It must make £71m in savings before 2015, up from the estimated £67m. It has already saved £19m in 2011/12, but will be forced to make £22m of the savings in 2012/13.

It is expected 50 council jobs will be lost – saving £1.6m - but it is estimated that by 2015 there will be 1,700 fewer jobs in the council than there were in 2011.

Speaking to the Express on Monday, Coun Peter Box said: “Once again this is a really tough budget. As an efficient council, we have kept cuts to services to an absolute minimum, protecting services for vulnerable people and those most in need, but we have still had to make difficult decisions.

“I accept that everyone is finding things difficult but there will be some service cuts.”

These are set to include reducing opening hours of swimming pools, increasing fees and charges in some areas of social care and starting to charge for parking at sports, leisure and cultural facilities.

The council has already off-loaded services such as markets and libraries to town councils and community groups, and Coun Box said that leisure centres and neighbourhood nurseries might be the next to go.

Ms Roney said: “We are open to working with community groups and others to safeguard these services.”

Coun Box said: “It’s not looking particularly good. I’m an optimist and it is a tough budget and will make further savings next year but we are making some investments.”

These include £450,000 on improved street cleaning, £250,000 working with troubled families, and £1m a year for the next four years will spent on improving highways.

More than £10m worth of savings have come from ‘reorganisation’ of services. These include changing adults and children services, more effective management of funds, and revising payments of the new waste site in South Kirkby.

Coun Box said during public consultations about the budget, residents wanted cash to be used to help tackle youth unemployment. He said he was working with businesses in the hope it would lead to more apprenticeships.

He said: “Businesses tell us they want particular skills so we need to make sure when young people leave school they understand what is needed. There will not be any cuts to services for young people.”

Ms Roney said senior managers, including herself, would take a five per cent salary cut.

If cabinet agrees to the budget, it will go forward for final approval by full council on March 1.