Council taxpayers in Kirklees reeling from savage cuts to services must brace themselves for more pain – and a possible inflation-busting 5 per cent council tax hike.

Kirklees Council is midway through a seven-year £152 million drive to slash spending in the face of Government austerity cuts.

By the end of this financial year some £83 million will have been saved – but another £69 million of cuts will follow over the next three years.

So far around 1,200 jobs have been axed and at least another 1,000 will go by 2018.

Next year alone another £30 million of cuts are needed and the council’s Cabinet will unveil its latest Medium Term Financial Plan at a meeting on August 26.

Funding for council services that people have taken for granted are now under threat as cuts bite ever deeper. Buildings and services to be hit include:

  • Museums, galleries and public halls;
  • Public libraries;
  • Police community support officers;
  • School crossing patrols;
  • Closed circuit television;
  • Park maintenance;
  • Street cleaning;
  • Events and concerts.

All council departments have been asked to ‘think the unthinkable’ and come up with millions of pounds worth of new savings.

As well as proposals to close all libraries except for the main ones in Huddersfield and Dewsbury, museums such as Tolson in Ravensknowle Park, Moldgreen; Dewsbury Museum in Crow Nest Park; Oakwell Hall in Birstall; Bagshaw in Batley; and Red House in Gomersal are all at risk.

Small residential care facilities are under review; environmental health inspectors will end routine checks to food outlets and only go in after complaints; the noise and pollution service will be cut; and school transport subsidies for those attending faith schools will be scrapped.

Public health services such as drugs and alcohol misuse, sexual health and smoking cessation will also be hit.

In a bid to minimise the damage to public services, councillors could impose a council tax rise of 5 per cent – inflation is less than half that – for each of the next three years, raising an extra £21 million.

Freezing the council tax would mean extra cuts of £8.4 million a year until 2017-18, the council has warned.

Council leader David Sheard admitted the latest round of cuts were “drastic and unprecedented” and “represent a massive change to what local government is”.

Kirklees Council Leader-Elect David Sheard.
Kirklees Council Leader David Sheard
 

He added: “In many cases they signal an end to public services that have been taken for granted for over 100 years.

“In the future the council’s main role will be the procurement of ‘social services’ to meet the needs of the most dependent residents.”

Clr Sheard said the council had to HALVE its general budget of £300 million by the end of 2017-18 and council tax rises of up to 5 per cent could not be ruled out.

Any increase of 2 per cent or more would need the approval of the public via a referendum.

“We are asking for views on the level of rate rise because we know that inflation is outstripping wage rises and that any rise above inflation will hit people hard,” said Clr Sheard.

“But the level of cuts to services may hit people much harder. We are genuinely seeking the public’s views as a referendum would be required to raise the rate over 2% and the cost of such a referendum would be wasted if there is not a lot of demand to do so.

“By that I mean if there is little chance of winning a vote to increase the rate it would be foolish to waste money in having one.”

Clr Sheard urged people to think seriously and realistically about the future of council services and finances.

“We are not asking people to choose one individual service over another because that’s not really an option,” he said. “That would simply have implications for everything else.

“These cuts have to be made so we are asking the public how we can best run services in the future and if they have any ideas.

“This is a conversation rather than a consultation.”

The council was looking for community groups to take over libraries, museums, public halls and toilets and the maintenance and running of parks and gardens.

The council is also asking the public what it should do with its land and buildings.

The council currently aims to raise £5 million a year from the sale of assets but the Cabinet wants to know whether people think they should sell off all property to shore up services, keep them and maintain them or hand them over to community groups at no cost.

The council could also boost income by allowing more homes to be built and encouraging new businesses.

An extra 1,000 homes – either new-build or previously empty properties – could generate £2.5 million in council tax and New Homes Bonus grant.

The New Homes Bonus was launched as a Government incentive for councils to boost house-building.

Having an extra 100 firms paying business rates could raise £350,000 for the council.

Cabinet also proposes to allocate 10% of the New Homes Bonus received so far to the new district committees, based on the number of new homes built in those areas.

A report to Cabinet says Huddersfield has seen 828 new homes since 2011 meaning a contribution of £214,801; Kirklees Rural 549 (£142,423); Dewsbury and Mirfield 459 (£119,075); and Batley and Spen 966 (£250,601).

The money would be used to support groups wanting to take on council buildings or services.

What’s under threat?

Museums and galleries – only two museums and Huddersfield Art Gallery will remain open. That puts a question mark over Tolson Museum in Ravensknowle Park, Huddersfield; Dewsbury Museum; Oakwell Hall in Birstall; Batley Art Gallery; and Red House Museum in Gomersal.

Tolson Museum, Ravensknowle, Huddersfield.
Tolson Museum, Ravensknowle, Huddersfield.
 

Libraries – all but the main libraries in Huddersfield and Dewsbury could close. Community groups will be invited to take them over.

Events, concerts and theatres – all council-funded events – such as Huddersfield’s Festival of Light and Spirit in Dewsbury which cost up to £50,000 a time to stage – will be axed. Funding will also be reduced to Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield.

Huddersfield Festival of Light
Huddersfield Festival of Light
 

Police community support officers – Kirklees Council will make “no further contribution” towards the cost of PCSOs.

School crossing patrols – the council will look at other road safety initiatives and better education.

Street cleaning – the council will only focus on town centres and “neighbourhood hotspots.” Local communities will be urged to take more responsibility for litter and clean-ups.

Local communities will be urged to take more responsibility for litter and clean-ups
Local communities will be urged to take more responsibility for litter and clean-ups
 

Maintenance of parks and open spaces – the budget is to be cut by a third meaning only “minimal maintenance.” Community and voluntary groups will be asked to do more.

Public toilets – most have closed and the council has already taken the decision to shut the remaining attended toilets in Albion Street, Huddersfield, Longcauseway, Dewsbury, and Holmfirth from October. It is hoped traders or other groups will step in.

Markets – Loss-making open markets in Batley and Birstall will close.

Huddersfield Open Market
Huddersfield Open Market
 

Free town buses – funding for town centre hopper buses in Huddersfield and Dewsbury will end.

Swimming pools and leisure centres – the council is to reduce the grant given to Kirklees Active Leisure to run its baths and sports centres.