Leeds City Council chiefs are having to consider a range of additional measures including significant staffing reductions, building closures and asset sales as the latest steps in the ongoing major budget challenge.
At the meeting of the council’s executive board at the Civic Hall on Wednesday 18 October 2023, a series of reports will be discussed on the financial position the council is facing now and for the years to come, together with options on how to meet the challenge.
Despite setting a balanced budget in February, the council is facing extra in-year pressures leading to an overspend of £29.6million for the current financial year. This reflects issues being felt nationally as a result of rising costs and demand for services, especially for looked after children, those with special care and education needs as well as for adult social care, together with an unfunded nationally-agreed pay increase for council staff.
All services have put forward proposals to deliver those savings, but the need for further savings continues on for the next three years with an estimated funding gap of £162.8m up to the end of March 2027, with £59.2m of that relating to the next financial year for 2024/25.
In order to meet this challenge, and fulfil the legal obligation to deliver balanced budgets each year, the council will continue to carry out continuous service and asset reviews along with freezes on recruitment, as well as on non-essential spending except where necessary for health and safety or statutory reasons.
Further significant measures will be necessary however, so the council has today issued a formal Section 188 notice to consult with trade unions to avoid, reduce and mitigate the potential risk and consequences of compulsory redundancies with the council needing to reduce its workforce by up to 750 full-time equivalent posts by the end of the 2024/25 financial year. This will be managed using a range of methods, including natural turnover of staff together with flexible retirement and voluntary leavers schemes, with compulsory redundancies being a last resort. In terms of its overall size, the council currently has around 3,500 fewer staff than it did in 2011.
As part of the ongoing service and asset reviews, the council continuously assesses the estate it owns and manages across the city. On average, around 10 buildings per year are released and as part of this process a further four are now being earmarked for potential closure by the end of the year due to having low occupancy levels and increasing maintenance costs. These are at Adams Court, 15 Lavender Walk, Broomhill Family Centre and Foxcroft Close. As a result of these proposed closures, staff impacted and the services they provide will be relocated.
Additional rationalisation being considered is the sale of four more assets owned by the council and currently leased out to operators. These are Swinegate Car Park, Harper Street Car Park, St George House and 2180 Century Way at Thorpe Park. If sold, these would generate substantial funds for the council to be used to mitigate the financial challenge.
Leader of Leeds City Council Councillor James Lewis said:
“The proposals announced today are us being up front and clear with everyone about the scale of the challenge we and councils all over the country are facing. After responding to austerity for the last 13 years we have now reached the stage where we need to look at every option no matter how unpalatable, which sadly includes the possibility of compulsory redundancies as well as building closures, asset sales and stopping or reducing some council services which will no doubt have an impact.
“Given the scale of the funding shortfall we will be looking at every building in the council estate from the Civic Hall to local community facilities, to identify what can be disposed of while still providing services to the public.
“All areas of the council are doing everything possible to mitigate that impact with a focus on continuing to provide frontline and essential services that people rely on in every community and support our most vulnerable residents, but it’s clear as with councils all over the country we cannot meet these financial challenges alone. The government needs to address this crisis in local government finance as a matter of urgency now.”
To see the reports the executive board will be discussing go to Council and democracy (leeds.gov.uk) (agenda items 13-15).
Leeds City Council was formally praised last year for how it operates following a peer review carried out by the Local Government Association. The LGA team returned to Leeds last month for a progress review and were again positive in their findings, while recognising the significant ongoing financial challenge the council is facing.
This post is based on a press release issued by Leeds City Council
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