Kirklees Council leader David Sheard has shed some light on what services might look like over the next few years as the council faces cuts of £69m.
He said that early intervention, combined efforts and community involvement were the tools that would keep Kirklees from going completely bankrupt.
He said: “The agenda isn’t really about what the council is going to keep on doing and stop doing, it’s about changing the way the council works altogther. If we don’t change what we’re doing in terms of looking after older people and protecting children then the numbers mean that by 2021 we would be bankrupt because we would be able to afford nothing else than to look after them.”
He said breakfast clubs at schools in disadvantaged areas could give children a better chance at a decent education and that better broadband access would help to connect people to the world. Snow clearance and salt spreading could also by devolved to residents, street by street.
And Coun Sheard said loneliness was a recurring theme with older people and that contributing to the running of a library could help to combat the problem while keeping the service open.
“It could be that some of the things we have to change could open things up to people that weren’t available before,” he said.
“We can provide things if we provide them in a different way. The cuts are too big to say ‘Let’s just salami slice here and cut this bit off here’, we are way past that.
“We have examples of friends of parks who are taking an active interest and that’s providing two things – it’s helping the parks and creating activities for those involved.
“Gomersal Public Hall is a hall that is owned and run by the council while Roberttown Public Hall has always been owned by the villagers, but as far as people visiting are concerned they are getting the same service. Which is more resilient? Gomersal’s hall will respond to council cuts, but Roberttown’s hall is owned by the people.”
He said the vast majority of people were kept out the care of the council by friends and neighbours and that support from the council, such as respite care for carer holidays, could help people continue that work for longer.
“It used to be the milkman who would be the first to notice that the milk hadn’t been taken in.
“We hear these awful stories about people being left at home for four weeks – well it might be a scheme on a street that just asks people to keep an eye out for elderly people and if something is wrong we will come.”
Coun Sheard said that money cut from markets, parks and libraries should be put into the context of council’s broader spending commitments on children’s and adults’ services.
“It’s £75m we spend on client led adult services and those people have been assessed, we have to pay it. We can’t decide not to give them that care, the only way we can do it is try to keep them out of care and make them more resilient.
“We can prove that spending money earlier stops money being spent later.”
Kirklees could not yet give further detail on the future of services and said a great deal of it would be informed by its ongoing public consultation, and that each decision would be considered individually.
A council spokesman said it was a myth that paying Kirklees’ chief executive less or cutting the number of councillors would make a significant dent in the funding problem.
And Coun Sheard added that the council’s reserves were only available to be used once and would not be enough to turn the situation around.
The first phase of the council’s consultation ends on Friday October 2 and the second will run October 27-December 5.
More information is available at www.kirklees.gov.uk/budget2015 and the council is looking for to the public for suggestions.
Coun Sheard said: “Would it really change things if the person giving you a library book is a volunteer rather than library staff? Would it really change things if the person visiting you to check that you are alright is a neighbour rather than a council worker?
“The answer to some of those is that it might even be better.”