Sheffield’s elder statesman says budget cuts are worst he can ever remember

Coun Peter Price says austerity is the worst he can remember
Coun Peter Price says austerity is the worst he can remember

Sheffield’s longest ever serving councillor says austerity measures and budget cuts are “without a doubt” the worst he has known and have left the city in a desperate situation.

Coun Peter Price, who has served a record 48 years on the council, said he thought times were tough during Margaret Thatcher’s reign in the 1980s but recent cuts have been far worse.

Coun Peter Price was Deputy Leader in the 1980s

Coun Peter Price was Deputy Leader in the 1980s

The council has seen a £430m reduction in funding this past decade. Welfare cuts are expected to continue into the 2020s with over £4bn due to be slashed nationally over the next five years.

Coun Price, who is Labour councillor for Shiregreen and Brightside, said: “We have protected vital services such as children and adult social care but I don’t know how we can do one more year of cuts.

“They have been without a doubt the worst cuts ever and I can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. People are beginning to despair.

“The council’s income has halved over the past eight years and staffing reductions have been colossal. Year after year it has been incessant and I don’t see any end to it.

“Cabinet members are trying to economise creatively but all the loopholes and avenues where they might have been able to save money have gone. Times are really desperate.”

Last week, the full council heard that austerity has had a significant impact on Sheffield people with the poor hit hardest. The cuts have coincided with changes to the benefits and tax system.

Coun Price was first elected for Labour in 1972 and served 12 years as Deputy Council Leader from the early 1980s. He said people’s personal circumstances are very different nowadays which is adding to the problem.

“The Thatcher years were bad and we thought they were the worst because we had rate capping and a lot of cuts but it was never to the extent of it now,” he said.

“We didn’t cut grass verges and streetlights were turned off to save money and it felt bad at the time but there was always a way to raise some money. People as individuals were not as poor as they are now and we never had food banks.

“If you lost your job, there was unemployment benefit and it wasn’t a lot but it was better than now. Disabled people would get benefits but now we have Universal Credit which is so complex.

“People are living longer so demand on services is growing. I’ve never seen the poverty that we see now. The council can’t help people as much as we used to but the demand is more than ever.

“Rather than having guaranteed funding we have to bid for grants against other cities. People may see some great developments in the city centre and wonder how we have the money for them but it’s because we bid for specific grants while the general budget is cut.”

Communities have rallied to try to plug the gaps left by budget and service cuts and Coun Price has praised the tireless hard work of volunteers.

“Grant aid, where the council would give money to community groups, is a fraction of what it used to be. Youth services used to have a very big budget but that has been hit hard and we now have some libraries run by volunteers which would have been unheard of in the early days.

“We’ve had to outsource services to the private sector and other services are being run by the community and that would never have happened.

“Local communities are more involved in raising money and bidding for grants, such as lottery funding and trusts and we have some wonderful Friends of parks groups springing up.”