Brace yourself for four years of pain

Sheffield Town Hall
Sheffield Town Hall
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RESIDENTS in Sheffield face at least four years of council tax rises as the city’s new Labour administration warns of tougher times ahead.

New council leader Julie Dore said more town hall jobs will have to be axed and council tax will have to rise by up to three per cent a year until 2015.

She said the measures were needed to meet a £170 million budget gap over the next four years.

Coun Dore said: “Let’s not kid ourselves and the people of Sheffield that there will not be further reductions.

“The awful financial settlement we have received from the Government presents us with a great challenge to provide the key services the people of Sheffield elected us to deliver.”

The new leader – elected two months ago after three years of Lib Dem control – refused to confirm the number of redundancies, but promised to try to find an alternative to job losses at every stage.

“I refuse to speculate on job losses, as someone who has been made redundant in the past myself,” she said.

“One of the things the unions were upset about with the last administration was the numbers game.

“The Lib Dems said only 270 jobs were to go but the unions said it was 800. I am not going to get into that game.”

The new Labour administration has drawn up budgets forecasting council tax will rise up to three per cent a year.

Deputy council leader Bryan Lodge, in charge of finance, said: “The Government is cutting our funding by 28 per cent over four years.

“They have assumed we will raise council tax by four per cent a year, but we are clear that is something we do not want to see in Sheffield.”

Labour’s new financial strategy to 2015/16, which will be presented to cabinet next Wednesday, says the authority will have to meet a budget shortfall of £57m next year and up to £40m a year after that until 2015/16.

Despite cuts of £84m already this financial year – laid out by the previous Lib Dem administration – Labour said making additional cuts is going to get progressively harder.

Coun Lodge said: “To take out more than £80m last year was not easy. But that was cutting the low-hanging fruit, the easy things.

“Now we need to take a more radical look.”

The council has launched a number of reviews that will report back later this year to determine how to reorganise services in a number of key areas – including waste management and early years provision.

The new team has forecasted that services across the council will have to cut between 10 and 16 per cent next year alone.

Council chief executive John Mothersole said the new political leadership had tasked his officers with investigating how to completely reorganise the council over four years.

He said: “This is the first strategic document this administration has had to produce.

“We were asked not what the council will look like in April 2012, but what it will look like in April 2015.”

Mr Mothersole said: “We are recognising that services will have to be quite different in the future.”

He said officers would not try to cling on to the council’s ‘brand’ as a large, centralised organisation, but would focus on organising services that may be provided by other bodies.

He said: “Outsourcing is not a policy driver but it is not out of bounds.”