Newcastle City Council it to slash its budget by £40m as a new set of cuts is drawn up to meet the Government’s deficit reduction plan.
The multi-million pound cuts will result in another round of staff redundancies, services being further cut and some mothballed.
The council is already in the middle of implementing a £38m cuts package for this year.
But council leader Nick Forbes and chief executive Pat Ritchie took the rare step of outlining the financial plans for 2015/16, which will have to be formally ratified in March next year.
Coun Forbes said: “Normally we wouldn’t get into budget conversation until much later but we’re doing a lot of early thinking because of the scale of the challenge we are facing.
“We want to have an honest conversation with people in the city about the impact of austerity cuts and what they mean for the services they enjoy and have come to rely on.”
Coun Forbes and Ms Ritchie would not specifically identify how many jobs would go and which services were under direct threat, with firm plans not likely to be announced until the autumn, after consultation with staff and council partners on how best to proceed.
But in a grim warning of what was to come, Coun Forbes said that so far the council has only achieved 40% of the budget savings required by the Government.
“The level of cuts are so severe that there are no areas we’re not looking at and trying to find alternative ways of funding,” he said. “The pace and scale is so great the council will have to do less in the future.”
He added: “The challenge is the council has statutory obligations and can’t simply stop, for example, looking after children at risk of sex or violent abuse or caring for old people in their own homes. We have a legal obligation to fund concessionary travel so our strategy is partly to work with other partners to reduce cost pressures.”
While not giving specifics, Coun Forbes hinted at some areas that were in the spotlight, saying: “If we don’t have an indication of a change of heart by later this year, many services aimed at supporting children and families as well as the help that keeps older people out of hospital are likely to be at risk.”
Street cleaning and environmental services are another area under the microscope, and the council leader said: “Unless we can change the behaviour of the minority of people who drop litter, fly tip and allow dogs to foul pavements, the council won’t have the resources to clean this up in the future. There is no doubt our city will get dirtier as a result.”
Coun Forbes added: “We will be straining every sinew to protect job numbers but there will inevitably be some redundancies. We will endeavour for them to be voluntary but we have no figures in mind yet. We will mothball some services with the intention of growing them again in future years. Austerity will pass. There is a growing clamour from local government to the present government for change.
“We hold onto the hope a future Government would take a different approach. But the next two or three years are going to be extremely tough for every council.”
Coun Forbes said there won’t be the repeat of two years ago when the council talked of a 100% cuts in arts funding then made a U-turn to 50% and set up a culture investment fund.
Coun Forbes said: “It was controversial at the time, in the long term it will be seen as the step which protected arts from continued cuts.”
But he said that if the scale of cuts continues, there are projections that by 2018 the council will not be able to fulfil its legal obligations in funding services and that it would become “unviable”.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 17 June 2014