Kirklees Council is facing a bleak financial picture but a leading councillor has confirmed that residents can look forward to seeing major projects progressing.
Cabinet Member for Corporate Services, Cllr Paul Davies told Yorkshire Live that major schemes such as Huddersfield’s Cultural Heart, are being “re-phased” to be delivered over an extended timeline if necessary, to address the council’s financial difficulties.
The George Hotel project in St George’s Square was confirmed to be moving forward and the Cllr said there had been “significant progress” made on the plans for the £7m Kingsgate Cinema with an announcement due to be made over the coming days after a period of uncertainty.
He said: “It’s really positive that an international brand like Radisson has the confidence to invest in Huddersfield. The full planning application has been submitted and negotiations with Radisson Hotel Group are nearing completion. We expect to make a further announcement on the hotel’s operation in the coming weeks.”
Cllr Davies explained that the council was under “huge pressure” with a £43m shortfall in its budget and felt that support from the national government was needed, particularly in areas such as the leisure sector and adult social care.
The pinch will be felt across all council departments, recruitment to non-essential roles will continue to be ‘frozen’ and buildings mothballed to help reduce costs. With the council aiming to make £19m savings across its services, Yorkshire Live asked Cllr Davies whether the council is confident that it can deliver the same level of service on a restricted budget.
He said that 23/24 would be challenging in this respect but that the council was confident it could provide its overall service levels. He said: “Clearly the pressure we’re under will show itself in terms of response times. It isn’t going to be an issue of services disappearing.
“However 24/25, I’ll flag up now, that’s a very different scenario when looking at the numbers. Unless we get significant support and changes in funding, it would be very difficult to say what services can be provided.”
For the next financial year, he explained that the increase in council tax by the maximum amount is necessary and will help the council provide services to the most vulnerable. He said: “It’s very difficult to see how we could not do that without really damaging services. In addition, it isn’t a one off because if you don’t have that increase this year, that drop in income goes on forever.
“We’re under no illusion that 24/25 is going to be an even more challenging year than 23/24 so to stack up even more challenges would be delinquent of us but I absolutely sympathise with people, nobody wants to see a 5% increase.”
Yorkshire Live asked Cllr Davies if, in light of the cost of living pressures residents faced, there was any more help on the way. He explained that the next financial year would see the continuity of several initiatives including the Bread and Butter Thing, the district’s 24 libraries doubling as warm spaces and the distribution of various funds to support the work of community groups.
He said: “As part of our work to help residents through the cost of living crisis, we’ve supported the excellent Bread and Butter Thing project so that it now has six hubs in Kirklees. In this financial year, the scheme has provided 214,755 meals for local people, saving residents £184,000 on their food bills.”
The Cllr added that council tax reduction payments were being looked at, though this may not be to the same level as previously.
With Kirklees Active Leisure (KAL) set to receive a £6m hand out from the council on top of the £11m it has already received over the past four years. Yorkshire Live asked Cllr Davies whether the council feels this is a sustainable approach.
Cllr Davies said it would be difficult to describe that as ‘sustainable’ and that for the financial year 24/25, it may not be possible for the council to provide KAL with some extra cash even if they wanted to. He added: “Clearly we cannot continue to subsidise to the level we have been doing, we simply can’t because of the pressures on us but our emphasis is on the balanced provision across Kirklees and how do we provide that.”
When asked how the council would instil trust in the public after receiving criticism for the way the leisure centre closures were handled, Cllr Davies said: “We’ve made the choice in extremely difficult times to find money to invest in KAL for the next 12 months and I think there is that trust that comes with that. We’ve done that in light of all the other challenges we face. We’ll continue to be transparent on that.
“We said once the closures were announced that we’d work with KAL and that we’d ensure consultation would happen and that there’d be transparency – all that has happened. Since the KAL board decision, all the way along the line we’ve been true to what we said we’d do. A number of us have spoken to community groups and made ourselves available and we’ll continue to do that.”