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Monday, April 22, 2024

Job cuts, council tax max rise, selling off buildings and parking fees: Kirklees Council’s ‘painful’ budget laid bare

"Painful decisions" have been made

The Kirklees Council has published its draft budget for the next financial year, with price increases, job losses, and service cuts set to continue.

The current financial year has seen the council forced to implement a number of tough cost-cutting measures as a result of its financial predicament, needing to address a £47m shortfall. These include upping fees and charges, looking to make hundreds of staff members redundant, and reviewing its estate.

While the borough’s council-owned leisure centres and dementia care homes recently saw a welcome reprieve, other “painful decisions” have been made to balance the books and make a £34.5m saving across 2024/25. More price increases, job losses, and service cuts can be expected in the coming year.

To cope with soaring costs and increased demand on council services, particularly those for vulnerable residents that the council is legally required to provide, the local authority says it needs to streamline some services, and increasing its income through avenues like parking charges. The following are some of the measures the council is looking to bring in for 2024/25 according to the draft budget:

Council tax hike

As anticipated, the budget means council tax for residents would increase by 2.99% with a further 2% increase earmarked for social care services for older residents and local people with disabilities. In total, the budget means an additional £1.71 per week for an average Band D property.

The draft budget states: “The council is mindful of the current cost of living challenge facing the citizens of Kirklees but faces a tough choice about whether to increase council tax to bring in desperately needed funding whilst at the same time acutely aware of the significant burden that places on households during a continuing cost of living crisis.”

Job cuts

In the current financial year, it was revealed that the council was looking to make up to 750 redundancies across its workforce, with 250 to be made by March. The draft budget for 2024/25 says that service redesign and vacancy management across various departments will result in the loss of jobs and some vacancies going unfilled.

The Red House Museum

Sale and closure of buildings

The document says that the council will be continuing to rationalise its assets over the course of the next financial year.

In November, the Local Democracy Reporting Service reported that the council would be disposing of four major buildings – the former Red House Museum at Gomersal, the DRAM (Dalton, Rawthorpe and Moldgreen) Sport and Community Centre, the HUDAWI Centre on Huddersfield’s Great Northern Street and 1 Beech Street at Paddock

DRAM Centre

Parking fee increases

Increases to parking charges across the council’s sites are a feature of the 2024/25 draft budget. Cabinet has already decided to increase fees at ‘chargeable’ council-managed and maintained car parks, with the revised costs to come in at car parks in Huddersfield, Dewsbury and Holmfirth in less than two weeks’ time.

Among the other money-saving measures being proposed are:

  • The closure of one of the borough’s registry offices – either at Huddersfield or Dewsbury
  • Increase to bereavement fees and charges in line with the rate of inflation
  • A review of fees and charges across museums and galleries
  • A redesign of Greenhead Park’s conservatory cafe’s operation and opening hours
  • An increase in school meal prices
  • A reduction of winter service levels for precautionary gritting and snow clearance
  • No maintenance of the St George’s Square Fountain
  • Bedding plants won’t be planted outside of Kirklees’ town centres and “principal parks”
  • A review of opening hours at council-run tips
  • Slash ward budgets from an annual £20k per ward to £10k
  • Reducing the use of agency staff

The proposals also mean the council will spend £258 million on care services for adults in 2024/25. Spending on social care services for children will rise to £69 million.

The council’s plans also include £1.4 billion investment into the Kirklees economy over the next five years through its capital plan. Huddersfield’s Cultural Heart is still on track for construction to begin in Summer and work also continues on the George Hotel.

Cllr Cathy Scott, Leader of Kirklees Council said: “Councils across the country are setting their budgets in some of the most difficult circumstances in living memory.

Cllr Cathy Scott

“We’ve had to take painful decisions to give the council financial stability. But, at the same time, we’ve tried to stay true to our values. That means focusing our resources on the people who need our support most. It also means modernising and transforming services to make them as efficient as we can. And it means continuing to invest in our future, to bring jobs and opportunities to families and communities in every part of Kirklees.

Cllr Graham Turner, Cabinet Member for Finance and Regeneration said: “All our services, from safeguarding children to emptying bins, rely on stable funding. That’s why it’s been so important to deliver a balanced budget for residents. The alternative to a balanced budget would be worse for residents, local services and hard-working council staff.

Cllr Graham Turner

“Since the cost-of-living crisis first hit, we’ve been reducing our costs relentlessly. We’ve frozen all but the most essential recruitment and spending. We’ve reviewed our investment programme and our use of buildings. But the challenges for all councils are bigger than that. That’s why we set out a long-term plan in the autumn that would reduce spending to match the pressures we face. This budget achieves that fundamental responsibility.

“Local government lives from hand to mouth, despite it delivering the services that we all rely on from looking after vulnerable children to providing adult social care, waste disposal and maintaining roads. Relying on funding from government for one year at a time makes it difficult to plan for the long term and deal with growing demand for services. We need a fair funding settlement that is for several years so that we can plan ahead and not be constantly budgeting for a single year.”

The draft budget will be discussed by Cabinet on 13 February and it will then go before the full council on 6 March where members will debate whether they accept the draft. The council’s groups are free to submit amendments to the proposal which will be published on 28 February.

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