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21.07.16

Leeds asks for ‘change of direction’ as 2,000 council jobs face the axe

Prime minister Theresa May’s new government is being urged by Leeds City Council leader Cllr Judith Blake to “consider a change of direction” in relation to local government funding, as the council warns of the need to reduce its workforce by up to 2,000 staff over the next four years in order to cope with cost pressures.

At the local authority’s next Executive Board meeting on 27 July, members will hear that, although compulsory redundancies have been largely avoided in the past, intense pressures to save money across the board mean thousands of jobs might have to go.

There is as yet no detailed indication of the exact number of redundancies that might be necessary to mitigate the need to save £400m by March 2017, nor exactly where in the council they would be needed.

Leeds is currently reviewing all its services to identify potential savings and income opportunities in addition to workforce reductions, all with the least possible impact on services. This review will help inform the development of its medium-term financial strategy, and later, in September, help decide whether or not it will accept the government’s four-year financial settlement.

In a statement, Cllr Blake said she looks forward “with interest” to see the direction the new government takes in the fast-approaching Autumn Statement in relation to deficit reduction and its impact on public service funding, as well as the potential for future local government cash injections.

“However, the current grant settlement as it stands means it will be incredibly difficult to continue to protect those services,” she added. “That said, as a council we will do all we can to minimise the effect of the cuts on vulnerable people as well as on our own workforce.

“Our aim is for Leeds to remain a caring and compassionate city built on a strong economy focused on tackling inequality and promoting opportunity for all. This remains a massive challenge given our projected financial position up to 2020, which is why were are in the process of reviewing our services and senior management arrangements, looking for ways to make income or reduce costs.”

To cope with the council’s funding gap – with its core funding slashed by £214m since 2010 despite increased demand – all areas of the council have been asked to make savings and efficiencies, although frontline services have been protected.

Despite this, the scale of this cash gap means it will become increasingly difficult to find savings without “major changes” in what the council does and how it is done, “which will have significant implications for the services provided directly by the council and those it commissions”.

“This will mean that those services which are no longer an affordable use of public money will be delivered differently and in some cases may have to stop,” the local authority said in a statement.

Cllr Blake also called on residents to “do their bit” in their own communities to help reduce the amount of money spent, such as by making good use of recycling services, picking up litter and looking out for vulnerable neighbours.

Local authority leaders have been warning since last year’s Spending Review that councils are continuously bearing the brunt of public cuts, and it had already been predicted that over 100,000 public sector jobs were set to be axed over this Parliament – including nearly 12,000 council jobs.

In late June, a National Audit Office report also revealed that financial strategies across councils were beginning to shift from managing assets to generating savings, meaning schemes that don’t fall under an ‘invest to save’ criteria are being written off as ‘low priority’ – even if they are essential.

And most recently, analysis by the Financial Times of council spending over the past five years showed “local government services are creaking under the weight of growing demand” due to £18bn real-terms cuts since 2010, with another £9.5bn expected by 2020.

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