Cuts totalling £30m are being planned by Rotherham Council over the next two years as the authority struggles to balance the books with reduced Government cash – meaning wide ranging changes including the prospect of job losses, council facilities closing and changes to public services.
Even the number of seats in the cafe at the authority’s Riverside House headquarters could be reduced to free up space to be used for other purposes as the latest round of cuts begin to bite.
Instead of looking just to the next financial year, the council is hoping to manage the impact of cuts by projecting two years ahead for the changes it will have to make – the first time the authority has taken such a step.
Public consultations over the proposals will start shortly and if approved will provide answers to the council’s need to save money to cover the shortfall in the annual grant it gets from central Government in the two forthcoming years.
If adopted, the proposals will have an impact on the council’s own workforce, with jobs being lost in many areas, but will also affect the public, who will see changes to some of the ways the council operates.
One major change is intended to bring benefits for residents, with proposals to overhaul the way the customer service team operates.
That could result in dozens of jobs going, but the objective is to move much of what is currently done manually onto computers, meaning cheaper operating costs but also more control over their cases for those seeking help from the council.
Elsewhere, rationalisations could see the council moving out of Bailey House, to make a saving of more than £300,000 a year and one of the four council depots also expected to close, with the Rawmarsh site already identified as the preferred option.
Residents who get council care via a personal budget would also see their needs re-assessed, under a programme of right size care packages
A report to councillors states: “The directorate wants to have an improved approach to how we provide our services, resulting in the right size of care and support, at the right time for the right length of time.
“This approach is to maximise independence, reduce costs where appropriate and safe, whilst exploring alternative provision/options to promote self-management and use of assets in the community.”
It is anticipated savings could be between five and 20 per cent.
On the streets, numbers of cleaners could go from 51 to 44, with the loss of three jobs in the council’s enforcement unit. Cost savings have been so detailed that a few hours a week could be shaved from the authority’s rights of way team, who look after footpaths, with the possibility of two jobs going in heritage services, with plans to encourage more volunteering in that area.
The budget for library books could also be hit, with a reduction of £40,000 a year, from the current spend of £260,000.
A further saving could be made from re-drawing the lease to the Riverside House headquarters, which would see it extended but could open up the prospect of sub-letting parts of the building, with the plan also including reduced seating for the cafe.
Council Leader Chris Read said: “Each year the Government grant funding we have to spend on services gets less and less, while the demand for services to the most vulnerable families and residents continues to rise. Over the coming weeks and months we will be setting out how we bridge that gap, whilst continuing to seek certainty from the Government about how they intend to see local services funded in the future.
“Over the last few years we have done everything we can to prioritise the services people have told us they value, while at the same time making sure we meet our legal obligations and protecting children and vulnerable adults, and we will continue to do this.
“These are inevitably difficult conversations to have, with challenging decisions depending on them. But Rotherham has been particularly dependent on Government grants that will soon cease to exist. The total amount of council tax raised by every single household in the borough would not even cover the cost to the Council of providing social care – let alone emptying bins, cleaning the streets, maintaining libraries and parks, and the other things that residents associate with the Council. So we have to make fundamental changes to the way that the Council works.
“Trying to pick our way through how we do this is the real challenge and not one any of us takes lightly. That is why we are taking the step of looking at a two-year plan this year, giving as much certainty as we can about what lies ahead.”