Deepest council cuts ever for Sheffield

Cllr Bryan Lodge outside the town hall with the Sheffield City Council Revenue Budget report for 2012/2013
Cllr Bryan Lodge outside the town hall with the Sheffield City Council Revenue Budget report for 2012/2013
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SHEFFIELD Council has announced its ‘deepest-ever’ cuts as it seeks to save £50 million over the coming 12 months - on top of £140m in reductions in the past two years.

Few small pieces of good news were revealed by the city’s Labour leadership. Council tax remains frozen for a third successive year, and help for businesses was announced.

But, at the same time, just £20m of the £50m cuts will come from efficiency savings within the council - the rest will be from a combination of service cuts and increases in fees.

And news leaked in advance, that Don Valley Stadium and libraries could close, was confirmed - with 14 of 27 community libraries under threat.

Other headline changes include the near doubling of residents’ and businesses’ parking permits - although the council said it is increasing them back to a level they were at around three years ago.

Funding for children’s activities is being axed entirely. Allotment rates will rise substantially. Care fees will go up. And on-street parking charges will be extended to evenings until 8.30pm, Sundays and Bank Holidays.

Sheffield Council leader Coun Julie Dore said: “The proposals will have a massive impact on services the council provides - everything will change.

“By the end of the decade, we will have nothing left other than statutory services and waste collection.”

Coun Dore said the council has been developing its proposals over the last ‘seven to eight months’.

The Labour politician spoke of her anger about how she believes northern city councils are being targeted for cuts.

She said: “I believe the Government is completely detached from reality and have no clue about the lives of decent, hard-working families and the impact cuts will have.

“I have been criticised for a letter I co-wrote warning of the dangers of cuts and the risk to social cohesion.

“While I do not believe Sheffield will fall apart, I was talking about the combined impact on all areas of public service. Surely it’s reasonable to question what will happen when the Government takes away so much.

“Over four years to 2015, the Government will have taken away £200 from each Sheffield resident - five times more than in rural areas in the south.

“The average cut to Labour-controlled areas is £107 per head, whereas it is £40 to £50 per head in Lib Dem or Conservative-controlled areas.”

Details of the cuts were outlined by Coun Bryan Lodge, cabinet member for finance and resources.

He said: “Over the last two years, savings have come mainly from administration costs and reducing senior management costs.

“Next year, we will continue to make efficiency savings but these will only total £20m. We have provided greatest protection to services that protect the most vulnerable people.”

Coun Lodge said the cuts would have a ‘real impact upon people’s lives’. But he added the council would be protecting funding for apprenticeships.

Meanwhile, £25m has been secured from the Regional Growth Fund to help small and medium businesses, and provide grants to entrepreneurs. And Sheffield’s £572m City Deal will begin to kick in, to provide 4,000 apprenticeship and training places.

Coun Lodge said evening, Sunday and Bank Holiday parking is likely to be subject to a £1 flat fee.

But maximum stay limits are to be removed and charges will be reviewed.

In car parks, charges are set to be lowered, and will go up in 30p increments to encourage greater use.

While funding for activities will end, the council said it would allow community groups to use council facilities to put on alternative sessions free of charge.

“Some community groups will until now have provided activities funded by the council, and we will work with those organisations to reduce the impact of the loss of funding, to see if they can continue,” Coun Lodge said.

The council believes the impact of closing toilets will be reduced, particularly in areas such as the city centre, because of the number of toilets provided by businesses.

With library closures, Coun Mazher Iqbal, cabinet member for communities, said he was appealing for voluntary groups to come forward.

“We will be publishing prospectuses on each community library later this month and inviting groups to make a bid. There will be an eight-week deadline for responses, which will then be assessed for viability,” he said.

But, if there is insufficient interest, up to 14 of 27 community libraries could close.

Coun Isobel Bowler, cabinet member for culture, sports and tourism, said Sheffield Theatres, Museums Sheffield, the Site Gallery and Showroom Cinema had all confirmed they could absorb the cuts to their budgets, and negotiations would take place to reduce Sheffield International Venues’ £5m annual subsidy.

But closure of Don Valley Stadium is an option, she said, due to its £700,000 annual subsidy and £1.6m of required refurbishment.

Coun Bowler said public events hit by funding cuts would be able to continue.

Details of the cuts were being revealed to opposition parties only today.

Coun Shaffaq Mohammed, Lib Dem leader, said: “The council should look at merging jobs and buildings with other public bodies.”

The Government says cuts are lower at rural councils in southern areas because they have a much smaller budget to begin with, and provide far fewer services than large councils like Sheffield.