Cash for Spen Pool but Dewsbury toilets go as £21m cut from budget

DEPUTY LEADER Coun David Sheard.
DEPUTY LEADER Coun David Sheard.

More than £20m will be cut from Kirklees Council’s budget for the following year after councillors struck a deal.

The cuts means 200 council employees will lose their jobs and there will be £1.4m less in the highways budget.

Councillors had to find £21m in savings due to a cut in funding from central government – on top of £62m found in previous years.

Slashing the street cleansing budget means the council will not keep Dewsbury’s public toilets open.

But £4.6m for Spen Pool was secured for 2017/18 at the Full Council meeting on Wednesday.

A council tax freeze from April was also voted through.

There was also good news for Kirklees Passport holders. A deal between the leading Labour group and the Green Party and Valley Independents means poorer residents in the borough will be exempt from a proposed charge for parking permits.

Passport holders who are allotment holders will also be entitled to a 50 per cent discount thanks to the deal.

Deputy council leader David Sheard also hinted that the cost of permit parking could be a one-off fee for life, instead of £30 per year as previously announced. The details have yet to be confirmed.

Council leader Mehboob Khan, who steps down on Friday, said: “Local government faces its biggest challenge ever. Despite the funding cuts we are still providing 99 per cent of the services we did before.”

A 30 per cent reduction in the highways budgets means there will be less cash for routine road repairs, including potholes and walls.

£1m less for street cleansing means the public toilets in Longcauseway, Dewsbury, will close unless and offer is made to keep them open by the private sector. Cleanliness standards may also drop in town centres, the council admitted.

There will be a £100,000 cut in seasonal weather spending, which includes gritting. The council said residents would not see a difference as the savings will be made from changes in working practices.

The Mayor and Deputy Mayor will also perform fewer duties to save £10,000.

The proposed amendments to the budget by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats were both defeated.

Tory leader Robert Light described the Labour budget as a “stop gap”.

“This is the third in three years. It is not good budgeting and not good leadership,” he added. Coun Light said the highways cuts would further “devastate” the road network. He promised a two year council tax freeze and to reverse the highways cuts.

The Tory amendments were rejected, with 39 votes against, 17 for and 11 abstentions.

The Lib Dems sought investment in their wards, including £3m of initial funding for a replacement sports centre in the Spen Valley. The Tories also pledged cash for a replacement for the Whitcliffe Mount sports centre.

The Lib Dem plan was rejected, 55 votes to 11, with one abstention.

All three opposition groups argued for the council to reinstate capital funding to the local area committees. This was not accepted, and the position remains that the committees have a revenue budget for the following year while a review takes place.

Councillors then voted on the original Labour budget, which was rejected by 36 votes to 31. This meant Labour and the Green and Valley Independents had to hammer out a deal behind closed doors.

Other Green and Independent amendments taken forward were a £43,000 saving from reducing the production of the Kirklees Together magazine and savings on printed council agendas.

A deal before the meeting saw a £4.6m plan for the installations of 1000 solar panels on council homes in Kirklees incorporated into the budget. This will be paid from the Housing Revenue Account and not by taxpayers.

Coun Sheard warned that the next two years were going to be even tougher for the council coffers. “A lot of people have not yet faced up to it,” he added.