District prepares for £64m of council cuts where will the axe fall?

Issue 509

THE SCALE of likely public service cuts is becoming clear as Kirklees councillors gear up for a budget meeting next month.
A planned 6.68 per cent council house rent rise would affect many poorer residents already struggling with increasing living costs.
But Lib Dem leader Coun Kath Pinnock (Cleckheaton) said councillors were hamstrung by the policies of the last Labour Government.
“They wanted council and other social housing rents to go up in line with each other on the retail price index. It’s been like that for seven years,” she said.
“And it’s Kirklees Neighbourhood Housing that sets the actual rise. So councillors had no involvement in the decision.
“But we’re all worried about it as we know it’ll impact on the less well off and may be the thing that families notice the most.”
Maintenance and repair fees would also be levied for equipment like stairlifts in privatelyowned homes, while library charges would also go up.
The proposals are in Kirklees Council’s Innovation and Efficiency Programme, which aims to save £64m by 2015.
Officials have identified public service cuts worth £27.7m over the next three years, with new or higher fees making up the rest.
Cultural services feature heavily in the cuts hit list.
Gomersal’s Red House Museum is earmarked for closure. Heckmondwike’s Bounce ‘n’ Bump, Oakwell Hall’s Yorkshire Day and Dewsbury’s A World Together festivals are also in the firing line.
Campaigner Imelda Marsden said of the proposed Red House closure: “We know money’s short, but there must be another way.
“Even if they had to charge adults an entry free but left it free for children, that’d be better than closing it full stop.”
The cost of dying would increase under the proposals, with an extra one per cent added to cremation and burial charges.
Free transport to St John Fisher High School in Dewsbury would be ended for all but the poorest families.
Free summer swimming for children at sports centres would be axed and a review of library charges would be launched.
Grants for community groups would be cut and there would also be a two per cent rise in town hall hire fees.
Other cuts would involve the sex worker support and domestic violence units and night marshals for Batley’s Golden Mile would disappear.
Teams of council wardens, including environmental enforcement and town centre rangers, would be merged into a single unit.
Some of the ideas have come from residents who took part in a budget consultation, which can be seen in full on the council’s website.
The budget for 2011/12, including schools, totals £932m. More than twothirds of that, £651m, is from Government grants.
Coun Pinnock said two thirds of the council’s money was spent on children’s services and adult social care, leaving only a third for all the rest.
She added: “What we’ve not had is a serious debate about what the council’s priorities should be. How important are parks to people’s lives?
“I think they’re very important. I know some on the council will disagree. But we’ve not even had that debate while these changes are being planned.”
A council spokesman said: “The process to set the budget for the coming year will conclude at the budget meeting on February 22.
“Councillors have difficult decisions to make as there is a continuing need to achieve efficiencies from across the whole range of services.
“The proposal to close Red House Museum is one of a large number of measures up for consideration to fill a very big gap in the council’s budget.”

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