CUTS of more than the budgeted £50m may have to be made at Calderdale Council, its new leader says.
Clr Tim Swift says the current £50m savings by 2014 may have to increase when the government’s spending review is published later this year.
Clr Swift was speaking to the Examiner about wider issues affecting Calderdale Council just weeks into the new job.
He was elected leader last week after his Labour party won more seats at May’s elections.
Until then Clr Swift was deputy leader and remains part of a coalition with the Liberal Democrats.
As well as announcing support for 100 apprentices for young unemployed people over the coming months, he believes there are four big challenges. They are:
Getting Calderdale through the economic difficulties
Looking at the council’s own financial position
The need to build on work already started to improve children’s services, which were issued with an improvement notice
Protecting adult services as pressure and demand grows.
Clr Swift says: “In the last two years we’ve come to fully understand what needs to be done and learnt lessons.
“We’ve got a much greater sense of openness back into the council.
“The last two years have been demanding, simply by the need to identify £50m of savings.”
Asked if the £50m budget cut remained realistic, Clr Swift added: “£50m is the right figure based on what we know at the moment, but we anticipate it will increase in the next two or three years.
“The government spending review will require further cuts, but I cannot say for certain what they will be.”
Changes to business rates and council tax benefits will also test all local authorities. Nationally there’s a £500 million cut to council tax benefit next year to deal with.
“I think looking ahead and seeing the economic situation as it is, we need to look at what we can do locally to support businesses and people through the hard times,” he added.
“We can’t change what happens nationally, but if Calderdale is going to meet its needs we are going to have to do things a little differently.
“But we can try to tackle youth unemployment by supporting our young people and making sure they don’t become a lost generation.
“I want to provide support and encouragement to other businesses in creating apprenticeships.
“Our economic taskforce has been running for three years which has invested about £2.5m in different schemes to boost the economy.
“So part of what we want to do is encourage more of that, but with apprenticeships by theory there needs to be a job at the end of it and we want to support that.
“We have more than 2,000 young people unemployed at the moment, so we need to look at the reasons for that, from the education offered aged 16 to 19 to the apprenticeships.
“It will be a really big challenge for us to keep morale high,” Clr Swift added.
“I have no doubt about the worth of what our staff are doing, it can’t be easy to work through change and be asked to make savings and there are no easy options.
“We have had a lot of staff jobs go and I maintain there should be compulsory redundancies as a last resort.”
He said a review of all council-owned buildings is one cost-saving measure they’re considering.
And Clr Swift believes Calderdale has a lot to sell for itself: “We have the diversity of towns, rural and urban, we have the skill sector here, Lloyds Banking Group retain a presence in the town which is a huge vote of confidence in Halifax.
“We need to make the most of our position within the heart of the north between Leeds and Manchester.
“I am passionate that Calderdale is a really great place and despite the current economic situation it’s a place that can thrive.
“I don’t see the council doing anything on its own, but we can all work together for a more prosperous future.”
Tomorrow, Clr Swift talks about improving town centres, parking charges and adult and children’s services.