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Baths at risk in £98m Wolverhampton Council cuts

Wolverhampton | News | Published:

Council tax bills will rise, the Central Baths could close and library opening hours in Wolverhampton will be slashed under £98 million of cuts unveiled this afternoon.

Frontline services will be hit by Wolverhampton City Council's deepest budget cuts yet, with the announcement being dubbed 'a dark day for the city'.

The Labour-controlled council's financial position is now considered to be £9 million worse than the £89m of savings it was preparing for when it recently announced 1,000 jobs would go.

And there were warnings the council would be bankrupt by 2015 unless it makes huge savings.

Today, finance bosses outlined the first £64.4m of cuts – and warned at least another £33m would need to be found by 2018. Today's cuts include:

- Council tax bills to rise by two per cent next April – the first increase in four years

- The removal of a £316,000 subsidy for Central Baths, meaning it will close unless someone else runs it

- Most libraries to reduce opening hours to save £1.7m and charges to be imposed to use the internet

- Increases in the price charged to schools for children's meals

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- All youth club activities to move to the planned £6m Youth Zone in the city centre with volunteers asked to run the rest

- Christmas lights budget cut by £25,000 and events funding slashed by £80,000

- Food waste collections under review

- Grants for voluntary groups cut by £1.6m

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Under the budget cuts, Wolverhampton Art Gallery, Bantock House and Bilston Craft Gallery will have to make more money for themselves while allowances for the 60 elected councillors representing Wolverhampton are set to be cut again.

It comes three years after their allowances were cut six per cent and they have been frozen since.

The cuts come on top of £100 million of savings the council has made over the past five years, which have already resulted in 889 job losses.

Chief executive Simon Warren said the authority had 'run out of wriggle-room' on where to make cuts. He said: "Leaving aside the fact that many reserves are already earmarked for specific things, drawing on the rest to maintain our current level of spending would reduce them to an unsustainable level by April 2015. To all intents and purposes, the council would be insolvent.

"We've finally run out of wriggle-room. We have no choice but to cut more deeply than we've done before. One consequence is that the council must shed at least 1,000 jobs. Another is that some services will be scaled down and others will stop altogether."

He added that even with the cuts this afternoon, the council would still be left £33m short of savings it needs to make by 2018/19. "Because of that, further tough decisions – and further widespread change – are inevitable", he said. "The council can't turn this situation around unless it shifts the focus of its business and substantially reduces its operating costs. There's no longer any room for 'business as usual'."

Labour finance chief Councillor Andrew Johnson said: "This is a dark day for Wolverhampton. We have done everything we can to protect essential services from cuts, but the Government continues to slash funding to Wolverhampton and we have no choice."

A consultation will now be launched before councillors vote on the cuts next March.

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