An “inhumane” plan to slash support for Newcastle’s homeless has been put on hold for now.
Council bosses have pressed pause on proposals to halve their spending on beds and other support services for some of the city’s most vulnerable.
The budget cut had sparked an outcry from charities and housing providers, who warned it could leave more people to die on Newcastle’s streets.
Local authority chiefs have insisted over recent weeks that, as they grapple with how to cut spending by another £60 million over the next three years, they needed to focus their limited resources on the root causes of rough sleeping – instead of using “what little funding we have to tackle the symptom of a broader issue”.
But it emerged on Monday afternoon that there could yet be a reprieve, with the homelessness service cut removed from final budget proposals published ahead of a council cabinet meeting next week.
The council now says that it will “carry out a review of the provision to seek best value for the council”, but has not committed to making a specific financial saving.
However, civic centre officials say they still plan to “work with providers and people who use the service to redesign the system and make efficiency savings by reducing the number of beds commissioned”, in an effort to reduce a “reliance on temporary accommodation”.
While the council had not specified how many of its current 734 commissioned beds it originally planned to axe, its proposal would have seen the annual spend on homelessness prevention contracts reduced from £3.3 million to £1.6 million from October this year.
Changing Lives, one of the main providers of temporary accommodation in Newcastle, had branded the cut “inhumane”, while homelessness charity Shelter called it a “significant reduction in the compassionate treatment of our homeless community”.
Newcastle’s approach to combating homelessness in the city has been a major source of pride for city leaders over many years, winning international acclaim with a prestigious gold in the World Habitat Awards in 2020.
But Shelter warned in a letter to the council that cutting its funding risked the emergence of a “tent city” and a “changed landscape where there is more rough sleeping, more deaths on the street, more begging and potentially more crime, especially in the city centre”.
Shelter said that an estimated 71 homeless people in Newcastle died between 2017 and 2021 and that a reduction in support also risked putting extra pressure on other frontline services.
The council announced on Monday that it still wanted to “invest in a longer-term vision to tackle root causes of homelessness and focus on public health, recovery services and housing”.
Labour councillor Paul Frew, the council’s cabinet member for finance, added: “There has been some fantastic partnership work across the city in recent years to tackle homelessness in Newcastle. We are incredibly proud of our achievements.
“But we were aware that much of the money being spent in this area was being spent to tackle the symptom of a wider problem, rather than the root cause. We still want to review our homelessness provision in the city and believe the transfer of Your Homes Newcastle presents a real opportunity for the authority.
“The move will ensure the authority has control of its housing stock and can integrate housing provision alongside other frontline service.
“Despite the removal of the savings target from the 2024/25 budget we will still be looking to review this provision and officers will still be able to seek best value for the council.”
Newcastle residents still face a 4.99% council tax rise as part of the final proposals due to be presented to the cabinet next Monday, 19 February and given final approval by the full council in March.