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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Cuts still likely

Council bosses say cuts are still likely in coming budget, despite thousands of objections

The proposed cuts in Bradford Council’s budget for the coming year makes “grim reading” – the Council’s leader has acknowledged.

At a meeting of Bradford Council’s Executive on Tuesday, members were told that thousands of people had objected to cuts included in this coming year’s budget – including the closure of three tips and a children’s education centre.

Charges will be introduced at some previously free car parks, and Council Tax is likely to rise by 4.99 per cent.

But Council bosses said the authority’s financial situation was so dire that there was little chance that any of the planned cuts could be rolled back – despite the opposition.

Bradford Council will vote on the 2024/25 budget at a meeting on Thursday 7 March.

The vote will come just a week after the Government agreed to grant the Council “exceptional financial support” – essentially giving permission for the Council to use money raised from the sale of property to fund services. Any shortfall would have to come from borrowing.

The support amounts to £240 million over two years, and the authority said without the support Bradford Council would likely have to declare bankruptcy.

Cllr Susan Hinchcliffe Image: Bradford Council

At Tuesday’s meeting, Council Leader Susan Hinchcliffe heard that thousands of people had signed different petitions objecting to plans to close three tips in the District – Golden Butts in Ilkley, Ford Hill in Queensbury and Sugden End in Cross Roads.

A petition urging the Council to re-think the closure of Ingleborough Hall – an education centre in North Yorkshire owned by the Council, has also been signed by thousands.

Overall over 12,000 people took part in the budget consultation.

But at the Executive meeting, Councillors said the Government support was dependent on the Council making swathes of cuts.

Referring to the budget papers at the start of the meeting, Cllr Hinchcliffe said: “This set of papers make for grim reading.

“None of these proposals proved popular – and that is something we anticipated.

“We don’t like doing this either, but these are very constrained times and we are in a position where we have to cut things that people enjoy using.

“None of this gives us any pleasure.

“I welcome the exceptional financial support, but it is not free money – it has to be paid back with interest.

“And we’ll still have to look at cutting £35m every year over the next five years.”

Judy Wetherall represented the Queensbury tip petitioners at the meeting. That petition has gathered over 4,500 signatures online and almost 1,600 on paper copies.

She said: “This is not a place people go to do a nice activity – this is a necessity for residents who do their bit for society.

“If we lose the recycling centre, it will make the Council’s job harder as it will cost more to remove all the fly-tipping.”

In response to those comments, Cllr Hinchcliffe referred to the support from Government, saying: “They would be alarmed if, at this stage, we said we were not going to make these cuts after all. The Government are expecting us to be a smaller Council, and we had to show we could do that – otherwise they wouldn’t have granted us the exceptional support.”

Joanne Sugden, a petitioner who spoke about the planned closure of Golden Butts tip, said: “The response from the residents in Ilkley has been overwhelming.”

Over 3,600 people had signed that petition.

The petition to save Ingleborough Hall has been signed by over 3,000 people.

Petitioner Julia Britton said: “Not every child flourishes in the classroom. Schools have been taking their pupils to Ingleborough for many years.

“With 40 per cent of children in Bradford living in poverty, it would be nonsensical.”

Marium Haque, Director of Children’s Services, said: “It was not an easy decision for us to make. However, given the financial situation we are in we had to put that option on the table.”

The meeting was told that the estimated repair bill to bring Ingleborough Hall up to standards stood at £2.9m.

Even if the Council had the cash to carry out these repairs, the hall would need to be closed for around 18 months for the work to be carried out.

The Council would keep its other North Yorkshire activity centre, Buckden Hall, and the meeting was told there had been interest from other parties who would consider buying and operating the facility.

Cllr Hinchcliffe thanked the petitioners, saying: “These are well used, well loved services people have relied on all their lives.

“But our finances are very strained, and we’ll need to look at even more cuts in future years.

“We can’t go back on any of the cuts that were proposed in the budget.”

The Council meets to vote on the budget on Thursday at 4pm.

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