Kirklees Council has ‘no option’ but to save £19m to address its £43m budget shortfall

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To address its £43m budget shortfall, the local authority will be using £25m of its reserves, leaving millions of pounds to be found across council services

A member of Kirklees Council’s cabinet has said the council has “no option” but to achieve £19m worth of savings across its departments to address its £43m budget shortfall.

At Tuesday’s (February 21) cabinet meeting, cabinet member for corporate services, Coun Paul Davies, responded to a question raised by Coun John Lawson (Lib Dems, Cleckheaton) about the council’s budget. Coun Lawson asked whether the council was confident that £18.6m could be saved across the council’s departments over the next financial year, as it has proposed.

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Coun Davies acknowledged that making the saving will be a “very significant challenge” but that there is “no option but to achieve these numbers.” He said: “In terms of confidence levels, we have to achieve them.

To address its £43m budget shortfall, the local authority will be using £25m of its reserves.To address its £43m budget shortfall, the local authority will be using £25m of its reserves.
To address its £43m budget shortfall, the local authority will be using £25m of its reserves.

“That’s the mindset both as an administration and senior management team have gone into this with. There isn’t an option B in that regard because, in terms of our reserves, we really are taking the maximum we can to continue with an assemblage of solid reserves.”

The councillor explained that doing anything differently could take the council into dangerous territory and added: “There isn’t time for us to wait a month, two, three, for some actions to be put in place. Literally every week counts in the next financial year and leading up to it”

In its budget, the council has prioritised adult social care and children’s services which were said to be “essential” to protect considering the ageing population, the NHS crisis and an increasing number of residents presenting with complex needs. Council tax will be upped by 4.99 per cent – the maximum amount permitted by the government, with 2 per cent of this going directly to services dealing with adult social care.

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The council hopes to achieve its £19m saving by delivering its services in a “more efficient way” and continuing to implement the measures that were brought in last Autumn to address the local authority’s financial difficulties. These include freezing non-essential recruitment, reviewing which buildings were in use and re-phasing its capital programme which includes projects like Huddersfield’s Cultural Heart and the George Hotel.

Coun Paul Davies. (Image: Heather Magner)Coun Paul Davies. (Image: Heather Magner)
Coun Paul Davies. (Image: Heather Magner)

However, despite scrambling to make savings in some areas, the council says it will be investing £1bn in infrastructure over the next decade to grow the local economy. Kirklees’ network of 24 libraries that double as warm spaces will also be maintained and a £6m support package will be delivered to Kirklees Active Leisure.

To address the remaining budget gap, the council will be taking £25m from its reserves. This money can only be used once and has the potential to put the council in further financial predicament in years to follow should the economic situation remain volatile.

Coun Davies said: “We’ve maintained the reserves in recent years to protect residents from unforeseeable economic shocks, and it would really be an understatement to say that those shocks have now materialised.” The Coun continued by saying that last year, members of the Conservative group had ‘demanded’ that the council spend its reserves.

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He added: “As if we could rely on this government to pilot our economy with skill and responsibility. And I genuinely shudder to think of the impact on our services if we had taken that advice twelve months ago.”

Coun John Lawson, Cleckheaton Lib Dem.Coun John Lawson, Cleckheaton Lib Dem.
Coun John Lawson, Cleckheaton Lib Dem.

A number of political points were made during the meeting with Coun Davies saying: “We need a government that doesn’t use the economy as some kind of experiment. In its place, we need productivity and sustainable economic growth.”

The issue of fair funding was also raised, with Kirklees said to be missing out on millions of pounds for vital services compared to local authorities both nationally and within the region. Coun Davies said: “We need a fair funding deal to be finally delivered. We’re not asking for special favours, residents simply deserve a fair deal.

“We finally need a solution to social care funding, that of course will be good for residents and the NHS. Without these changes, councils like Kirklees will face even tougher choices next year. However, in the meantime, this is a budget that delivers stability for the coming financial year.”

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Cabinet member for culture and greener Kirklees, Coun Will Simpson shared his thoughts on the budget. He said: “None of us become councillors to present budgets that reduce our investment in services. We all want to do better.

“Under the circumstances, I’m really pleased with the budget we’ve put together because it’s one that in really difficult circumstances, is protecting our services as best we can but we’re also upfront about the fact that we’re not pretending this isn’t going to have any impact either.”

He added: “We wouldn’t be in the position of being able to do these things, protecting the climate projects, of protecting Kirklees Active Leisure, protecting so many other services across our portfolios if we’d been listening to, in particular, the Conservative group amendments in recent years which each year have proposed using what are so-called ‘too much reserves’ that we’ve been apparently hoarding.”

The budget was endorsed by cabinet and will be debated at a meeting of the full council on Wednesday, March 8.