Wolverhampton City Council has announced a “Dark Day” as savings proposals of £64.4 million aim to tackle the most severe financial challenge in the authority’s history. Difficult decisions have been forced upon the council as Central Government continues to massively cut the grant it provides to Wolverhampton. Government grant reductions mean that the council has to find £98 million of savings by 2018/2019 on top of the £100 million it has already made over the past 5 years.
It is virtually certain that council tax will have to rise next April in what would be the first increase in 4 years. At the moment the authority is planning a 2% increase. The council has today also announced details of 165 individual savings proposals that would see costs reduced in every department across the authority.
In revealing the proposals, Councillor Andrew Johnson, cabinet member for resources, said that the priorities for council spending would be economic regeneration, job creation and protecting essential services. These priorities are what residents have said they want the council to focus its resources on.
Councillor Johnson said: “This is a dark day for Wolverhampton. We have done everything we possibly can to protect essential services from cuts, but the Government continues to slash the funding it gives to Wolverhampton and we have no choice.
The proposals likely to have the biggest impact include plans to reduce the opening hours of some of the city’s libraries and introduce charging for the use of the internet in libraries. The council has 15 branch libraries across the city and this proposal, which would save an estimated £1.7 million, is a way of avoiding the closure of any library. The council will look at ways of increasing opening hours when staff are not there – such as using self service machines and seeking volunteers to run the facilities.
Another proposal will see the council increase the cost it charges to schools to provide schools meals. Costs would increase to schools by 2.5% in 2014/2015 and 5% over the following 3 years. The council also intends to save £1.1 million by changing the way it provides youth services. Youth services that are open to all in the future will be centred around the new £6 million Youth Zone which is being created in the Westside area of the city centre.
Under the proposals, activities currently provided at the city’s council run youth clubs would be transferred to the new youth zone. The voluntary and community sector will be encouraged to provide youth facilities at suitable venues in the city such as church halls and community hubs. Meanwhile, the council would continue to provide targeted youth work, as it does now, which is focused on helping and supporting young people who are at risk, for instance of exclusion from school, by identifying activities which they can get involved in.
Voluntary sector grants currently will reduce by £1.6 million – but while significant, it is only a 13% decrease to the £12.5 million the council spends in this sector commissioning services. It also proposed to stop the collection of garden waste over the winter months which would save £150,000. It is also intended to review the food waste collection service – only 35% of households are currently using the service and this figure has remained static since collections were introduced.
The authority has already announced that 1,000 jobs will need to go over the next 5 years – this is on top of the 889 posts that have gone over the past 5 years.
A consultation period on the proposals will begin next month (November) where the council will seek feedback from stakeholders including the public, voluntary sector, the Local Strategic Partnership, trade unions, businesses and schools. The outcome of the consultation will be taken into account in the Cabinet’s final budget recommendations to Full Council in March 2014.
Source: Wolverhampton City Council website
16th October 2013