Council approves plan to save £50m

Andy Shallice and Alison Howard, Community Assembly workers, outside Sheffield Town Hall.
Andy Shallice and Alison Howard, Community Assembly workers, outside Sheffield Town Hall.
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SHEFFIELD Council has approved £50 million of cuts over the coming year - and warned of further cuts until 2018.

The ruling Labour group made no last-minute changes to its proposals, which were voted through yesterday afternoon.

Alternative ideas proposed by the opposition Lib Dems, including a staff pay cut, more management job losses and a reduction in trade union posts, and the Green Party’s idea of a rise in council tax, were all dismissed.

But council tax will be frozen, and the number of council redundancies is likely to be much lower than feared - 400 instead of 600 - due to people taking voluntary redundancy, early retirement, or non-replacement of staff who have left.

The budget includes withdrawing the £700,000 annual subsidy for Don Valley Stadium, despite protests from Jessica Ennis’ coach Tony Miniciello, and the £400,000 subsidy for Stocksbridge Leisure Centre.

The council plans to reopen and upgrade Woodbourn athletics track as an alternative to Don Valley Stadium.

Council cabinet member for finance, Coun Bryan Lodge, said: “There are no last-minute changes to our budget. We have worked long and hard to put our proposals together and we are in a situation where austerity will continue until at least 2018.

“We have to make proposals which are sustainable in the long term.”

Coun Lodge dismissed opposition plans as ‘raising false hopes and expectations’.

Lib Dems said libraries and sports facilities could have been protected through measures including staff taking a pay cut if their salaries top £30,000.

The opposition group called for a five per cent pay cut for council staff earning over £39,000, and a 2.5 per cent reduction for those earning £30,000 to £39,000, to save £1.2m a year.

Lib Dems also proposed to make further savings by making additional cuts to management and full time trade union posts, which are already being reduced from 17 to nine.

And the group wanted to delay closure of Don Valley Stadium to see if alternative proposals could be found to make it viable. Demolition and redundancies could cost the council £174,000 more than the £1.4m a year saved over the next two years, the opposition group said.

Lib Dems also proposed more support for households struggling with weekly bin collections by cutting the cost of garden waste recycling from £1.20 a sack to 30p, and upping opening hours at recycling centres.

The party said it would provide a transition fund for nurseries to help them cope with a switch from council to Government funding, save Bole Hill View dementia care centre in Crookes, and retain community assemblies.

Coun Simon Clement-Jones, finance spokesman, said: “Over the past two years Labour councillors have consistently blown money on pet projects, high-paid consultants and their trade union pals.

“When we’re facing difficult decisions, these funds need to be directed at the services local people care for most.

“Keeping Don Valley Stadium open for another 12 months would actually save local taxpayers money, and allow the community to come together and find ways to save this valuable city asset.”

Green Party councillors proposed a small increase in council tax of 2.95 per cent to save services and increase the hardship fund to help households hit by cuts to council tax benefit.

Coun Jillian Creasy, Green councillor for Central Ward, said: “Our proposed rise of 48p a week for the majority of households would be enough to protect some vital services - particularly for children and young people, and by tripling the hardship fund attached to the council tax support scheme.”

But Coun Lodge said: “Pay cuts to staff would require three months’ notice and three months of consultation, so would not save £1.2m over the coming year.

“Also, delaying closure of Don Valley Stadium would be putting off the inevitable.

“The Lib Dems have overlooked a £1.6m refurbishment of the roof, wiring and lighting which would be needed at Don Valley in the next two years, and income from sale of the site.”