The provider of essential services, or overstaffed, bureaucratic monoliths that lived ‘too large for too long’ – councils are facing the biggest changes for generations.
Hundreds of millions of pounds worth of cuts will kick in from April 2014.
Libraries face reduced opening hours, a leisure centre and a museum may close, parking charges will rise and even the bin services used by every single council tax payer are facing major change.
Cuts in council budgets have been a part of everyday life for the past three years, since the coalition government began reducing grants in order to try to reduce Britain’s spending deficit.
Many authorities have gone through pay freezes and reduced the costs of senior management.
But council leaders now say they have no choice but to draw up cuts to frontline services, which will begin to kick in from the start of the next financial year.
Staffordshire County Council was the latest to unveil cuts over the next five years worth a total of £109 million.
Job losses are an ‘inevitability’ and would come on top of 500 planned since 2010.
There will be a ‘comprehensive review’ of 38 youth clubs which could be closed or taken over by other organisations in a bid to save £4.5m.
Only one in five of the 73,000 young people in Staffordshire is said to be using the council-run clubs, with bosses saying sports clubs and groups like the Scouts are able to provide better opportunities for less money.
Older people also face £4m worth of cuts to care that helps them to stay in their own homes. A further £6m will come off the budget the following year.
Stafford Library will be moved from the Shire Hall to save £75,000 a year.
It will go to Staffordshire Place, the £38m new council head office that was built despite the looming funding crisis facing local authorities. Arts are a particular target for councils which have to balance the needs of culture with those of keeping vulnerable people safe.
Up to £218,000 a year will come from ‘vacating’ the art exhibition space in Shire Hall Gallery in Market Square. The closure of Lichfield Record Office, based at Lichfield Library in The Friary, would save £70,000 a year. A review of green waste recycling with district councils is to be carried out amid hopes to save £1.5m a year.
And the council is aiming to save £1.3 million a year by reviewing the £23 million it spends with Entrust, the company it set up with Capita to run support services for schools in the county.
Schools in Walsall are likely to find themselves asked to contribute towards the costs of 82 lollipop men and women. The borough council believes it can save £85,000 a year by passing on the cost.
But it has been heavily criticised for spending £50,000 on new car for the mayor.
There are also plans to make 37 staff in children’s centres redundant. Walsall Council chiefs have insisted that the borough’s 18 centres will remain open despite the children’s services department facing £5 million of cuts to its budget.
But 37 workers at the centres face the axe while funding for some taxi journeys for families paid for by the council will also be dropped.
The proposals have sparked anger among opposition councillors who have warned that children’s centres could struggle to survive with reduced staff.
Bus passes and taxi rides for some parents of disabled children will be scrapped as a council tries to claw back £5 million from children’s services,
The most symbolical of the cuts in Walsall would be the closure of Walsall Museum, which would save £70,000. That would go at some point in 2014 under the current draft proposals.
Walsall, like every authority in the Black Country, is seriously considering rejecting Chancellor George Osborne’s offer of a grant to freeze the council tax.
Each year since the coalition came to power, the Chancellor has found the funding to offer local authorities the incentive.
It means that in most areas, people are still paying the same rates they paid in 2010
But for councils who accepted it, the impact of inflation means it’s effectively another cut.
If councils do defy the Chancellor and decide to increase council tax, they would have to hold a referendum if they want to put it up by more than two per cent.
Nonetheless, Black Country councils are working on the basis of doing this while Tory-led Staffordshire County Council plans to go freeze the rates again.
Walsall’s Conservative council leader Councillor Mike Bird would be going against if his own party if he approves a rise next year.
He said: “It’s been extremely difficult. I keep saying that local government is doing the dirty work of the national government.
“We’re in tough times but we still have a budget of £750 million. People need to look not just at what we’re cutting but what we’re continuing to spend.
“The council tax freeze grant is for one year only.
“We’re working on a budget that assumes we accept it, but the decision will be taken in February.”
Wolverhampton City Council is another authority where the rates would go up.
But it will not be enough to hold off deep and swingeing cuts to services.
It plans the removal of a £316,000 subsidy for Central Baths, meaning it will close unless someone else runs it
Most libraries will have reduce opening hours to save £1.7 million and charges will be imposed to use the internet.
There will be increases in the price charged to schools for children’s meals. All youth club activities will move to the planned £6 million Youth Zone in the city centre with volunteers asked to run the rest.
The Christmas lights budget will be cut by £25,000 and events funding slashed by £80,000. Grants for voluntary groups are to reduce by £1.6 million. Food waste collections – staunchly defended by the city council when it introduced slop buckets two years ago – are now under review as they are not particularly well used. The city council is exploring a review of parking services and charges as it looks to save £120 million over the next five years.
Bosses stressed no final decisions had been made but any charges would be a ‘minimum’ rate.
Proposals include introducing pay and display on street charges, new Sunday fees, a charge after 5.30pm and a new daily rate for parking at West Park.
Parking charges are also set to rise in Dudley next year as the council seeks to raise more money and avert some of the potential cuts to services.
But the axe has fallen on other services including arts funding.
A total of £270,000 will be cut from the maintenance of parks, open spaces and verges and there will also be cutbacks in road and footpath maintenance.
Talks are taking place over the future of the Dudley Performing Arts service amid moves to cut £178,000 from its budget.
Dudley Council is restructuring Dudley Performing Arts service. The latest cuts follow a reduction in funding for the service in 2011, which saw it forced to cancel two major music festivals, which used to attract up to 5,000 people each.
The council is facing having to make overall cuts of around £60 million over the next three years.
Dudley Performing Arts staff had been warned about the possibility of redundancy and council bosses confirmed that one of the two workers had lost their job. Plans to cut 20 children’s centres to save £2.3 million were scrapped after protests.
Councils are finding that the cuts they have made so far are not enough.
More than 2,500 people have left Sandwell Council alone since 2010. Another 500 posts will go by 2017. Ways of raising extra funds includes plans to raise the cost of dying. Increased fees for burying and cremating loved ones will bring in £120,000.
From January all fees and charges will be increased by a blanket four per cent.
Half of that will cover increasing costs to the council, while the remaining £60,000 is expected to be spent on improving the frontline services.
Library users also face paying more for services. Sandwell Council, which has closed the Public arts centre in West Bromwich to save money, is now reviewing its fees and charges for 2014/15 for the library and information service. Proposed changes will see users pay more for things like hiring CDs and rooms, as well as photocopying.
Smaller councils have also had to re-think their budgets. Wyre Forest District Council is considering scrapping the Glades Leisure Centre in Kidderminster and Stourport Leisure Centre, which it says are too costly to run.
They would be replaced by a £10.5m centre at the former British Sugar site in Stourport Road.
In Wolverhampton, the city council plans to charge people to use the internet in libraries and will reduce the opening hours of most of them.
The council now faces having to re-introduce charges it had previously scrapped.
City council leader Roger Lawrence said: “We’re making cuts we wouldn’t want to make in 100 years.
“There are no simple solutions. It’s not a done deal yet. There’s a long way to go over the next few months. There’s been a significant redundancy programme. It’s unprecedented.”
Centro also has £14m of cuts planned, including potentially scrapping free tram and train travel for pensioners and rising children’s fares.
Wolverhampton Council is looking to make £120m cuts over five years. They include: Central Baths to either transfer to private sector or close; 1,400 jobs to go; library opening hours to be cut; Christmas lights budget slashed next year; parking charges to go up, with fees introduced on Sundays; the number of councillors could be cut along with their allowances; garden waste collections in the winter could be scrapped and a review will take place into the scheme to collect food waste from people’s homes every week; burial fees to rise; neighbourhood wardens to be halved; council tax to increase by just under two per cent. Leisure boss Councillor Elias Mattu said: “We’re working with the Amateur Swimming Association and Sport England to help us make Central Baths thrive. I’m more optimistic for it than I was a few weeks ago. We have to do our best to preserve our services at a very challenging time.”
Sandwell Council is looking at cuts of £100m by 2017. They include: 500 jobs to go; The Public Arts Centre closed; possible increase in meals on wheels, however the charge for pensioners could also still be scrapped; burial fees to rise; council tax increases being considered; library fees to rise. Finance boss Councillor Steve Eling said: “The issue of a council tax increase is difficult. The government’s freeze grant has been having a corrosive effect on finances. It’s not matched inflation which means it has effectively been another cut.”
Dudley Council is looking to make £57.8m of cuts by 2017. They include: 334 jobs to go; Dudley Performing Arts Service to lose £178,000; £270,000 cut from maintenance of parks, open spaces, verges and footpaths; parking charges to rise; burial fees to rise; council tax to increase by around two per cent; but plans to axe children’s centres have been scrapped. Council leader David Sparks said: “I am in favour of keeping as many children’s centres open as possible. These are the biggest cutbacks in our history.”
Staffordshire Council is looking to make £109m cuts over five years. They include: 38 youth centres under review; £4m cut to support for elderly in 2014; Stafford Library to move from Shire Hall to Staffordshire Place; but council tax will be frozen again.
Councillor Ian Parry, who is in charge of finance, said: “Any authority who takes a ‘cut and shut’ approach is doomed. “We’re planning to provide services in a different way. That means cutting out inefficiencies.
“We’re freezing the council tax because we’ve been able to take a long term approach. We set up a joint venture with a private company to run our schools’ support services and for that we received £30 million. We expect it to produce income we can invest elsewhere.”
Walsall Council is looking to make £19m cuts in 2014 – £100m over five years. They include: 332 jobs to go; fees for bowls clubs to rise from £810 to £6,605; Walsall Museum to be axed to save £70,000 a year; application fee for disabled blue badges to rise; halve grants to allotment associations, saving £20,000; shool crossing patrols under review, with schools asked to pay; reduction in grass cutting at cemeteries; council tax could increase. Walsall Council leader Mike Bird said: “Many people are saying the museum should go.”
Centro has £14m of cuts planned. They include: Free tram and train travel for pensioners threatened; children’s fares set to rise from half to two-thirds; funding for Ring and Ride set to be reduced. Councillor John McNicholas, chairman of Centro, said: “Reducing future funding to Ring and Ride is just one of a number of options Centro is exploring. We are holding a public consultation on these options which include children paying two thirds of the adult fare on buses.”