THIS is not the first time Kirklees Council has had to make huge cuts to balance the books.
Back in the late 1980s councillors were pressured to reduce spending by Margaret Thatcher’s government.
Labour’s Sir John Harman led Kirklees from 1986 to 1999.
Yesterday he said: “Most years in the late 80s we were looking for cuts of between 5% and 6% which is of the same order of the cuts being proposed today.
“There was a general denigration of local government with stories in the papers every week about ‘loony left’ councils. We felt embattled.”
Kirklees had to push through a series of unpopular cuts at the time.
Sir John said: “We had to close libraries and old folks homes like Thorpe Grange in Almondbury.
“People affected by the cuts were upset and angry. The old folks homes were deeply loved by the staff but they tended to be in old buildings where facilities were poor.”
However, Sir John added that the consistent cutting forced Kirklees to become more inventive.
The former Paddock councillor said: “We started Public Private Partnerships because, when you don’t have a lot of public money, you have to find private funding.
“Because we had so little elbow room we had to become innovative and I think that will be the case this time as well.”
Current deputy leader of Kirklees Clr Ken Smith was on the council during the cuts of the late 1980s. The Labour man said: “I think we coped extremely well – we protected almost all jobs.”
Clr Smith, who was a councillor for Birkby at the time, blames Mrs Thatcher’s government for the spending freeze of the late 1980s.
He said: “Thatcher shifted the burden of tax onto councils forcing us to put the rates up. What we’re dealing with today is systemic. The problem in the 1980s was artificial.”
But Clr Robert Light disagrees. The Conservative, who was first elected to Kirklees in 1987, believes the cuts were necessary.
He said: “The council had to pull its belt in. Some of the rate rises back then were horrendous – it was 13% one year and 26% the next.
“There was a lot of anger – people didn’t like their rates going up.”
Clr Light, who represents Birstall and Birkenshaw, believes the 1980s cuts made Kirklees more efficient.
He said: “Kirklees was a very wasteful Labour-run council which wasted money on international twinning links and political agendas. Local government had to look at its efficiency.”
Clr Light hopes present cuts will be managed better than the 1980s.
He said: “The cuts weren’t planned year-on-year. Budgeting was done in the last five minutes which led to irrational decisions.”