Kirklees Council budget: Council tax rise but markets to close as £69m cut

Kirklees Council leader David Sheard. (D526D439)
Kirklees Council leader David Sheard. (D526D439)

Council tax will rise while cuts to be imposed on almost every service Kirklees Council offers.

But council staff will get a wage rise as part of the authority’s promise to deliver a living wage.

Kirklees councillors thrashed out their spending plans for the next three years on Wednesday.

It was the leading Labour party’s budget proposal that was accepted, with some amendments from the Green and Valley Independents. Conservative and Liberal Democrat amendments were rejected.

Council tax will rise by 1.95 per cent, while Batley and Birstall’s markets close, Dewsbury’s Spirit event is cancelled and school crossing patrols are reduced.

Kirklees Council is on £152m drive to slash spending over seven years due to government cuts. Some £83m has already been saved and it was agreed another £69m will be cut over the next three years.

Around 1,000 jobs will also go in the period. Kirklees currently employs around 7,000 people, excluding teachers.

Council leader David Sheard reminded the meeting that while most of the budget debate had centred around highly visible services – such as libraries, markets and buses – most of Kirklees’ budget was spent on social care and it was that budget which was facing deep cuts.

“The problem this council faces in social care is the problem the entire country faces,” he said. “But if we don’t reform by 2022 Kirklees Council will do nothing else whatsoever apart from helping people needing social care.”

Coun Sheard said the council was moving towards a “prevention agenda” to deal with cuts to children’s services.

He also warned that it was “not the end” of the cutbacks as there remained a £20m shortfall in the budget for year three.

Liberal Democrat leader Coun Nicola Turner had called on the Labour group to reverse cuts to community events such as Cleckheaton Folk Festival and Crown of Lights.

“Events, festivals and things that cement communities together may not happen and this will damage local communities,” she said.

Tory leader Robert Light criticised the council tax rise – his party had promised to freeze it. “It is morally indefensible to be taxing people when this council has such high levels of reserves,” he said.

The Labour budget pledged to invest £5m in Dewsbury town centre and £10m in Huddersfield.

“This Labour budget demonstrates our commitment to Dewsbury and Huddersfield town centres,” said Coun Cathy Scott.

But the other parties accused them of neglecting other areas where Labour do not have as many voters.

Tory councillor Liz Smaje said: “By removing all existing regeneration capital from the Spen Valley, Batley and Mirfield and putting £15m into Dewsbury and Huddersfield you are being unfair to the majority of Kirklees.”

Libraries funding will not be cut until 2016/17 to give communities time to get involved in saving them. A public consultation on the service remains ongoing.

And Dewsbury’s free town bus is not dead in the water yet. Coun Eric Firth said funding would remain for a short time longer to find another way of running it, even though it was likely be a reduced service.

The Labour and Green budget passed with 37 councillors in favour, 16 against and nine abstaining.

2015 budget results at a glance:

•Council tax will rise by 1.95 per cent.

•The police precept will rise 1.99 per cent.

•The fire authority has not yet made its decision.

•Around 1,000 jobs to go.

•Borough wide reduction in CCTV, saving £246,000.

•Free transport for faith school pupils axed.

•Cash for council-funded events such as Spirit gone.

•Batley and Bistall markets to close.

•Dewsbury’s free town bus still at risk.

•Reduction in school crossing patrols.

•Maintenance of parks and open spaces budget cut. Reduce littering/dog control enforcements, dealing with stray/dangerous dogs, patrolling parks and maintaining minor public rights of way, saving £744,000.

•Cease contribution to Police Community Support officers, saving £629,000.

•Almost £300,000 of support to Kirklees music school axed.

•Living wage introduced – all directly-employed Kirklees staff will be paid a minimum of £7.85 per hour.

•Capital investment plan includes £14.4m from 2015-2019 for Cooper Bridge and commitment to rebuilding Spen pool, as well as £5m investment in Dewsbury town centre.

Green and Valley Independent amendments adopted:

•£150,000 of the Huddersfield and Dewsbury Town Centre Action Plan resources to set up two community shops to help the low paid.

•£1.125m from the ring-fenced Housing Revenue Account to ensure there are Passivhaus (energy efficient) standard homes.

•Expand the activities of Building Services to cover work on private sector homes which will generate £50,000 in 2016/17, £100,000 in 2017/18 and £150,000 in 2018/19 for Kirklees.

•Renewable energy plans for derelict public-owned land with £100,000 on a feasibility study. It could see solar panels fitted to school roofs and unused land used as a solar farm.

All parties agreed to:

•To reduce mileage in line with HM Revenue and Customs rates saving £300,000 in 2015/16, £600,000 in 2016/17 and £600,000 in 2017/18.

•To look at the electoral cycle and number of councillors.