Front line is priority

Halifax Town Hall, where councillors will make their final budget decision in February
Halifax Town Hall, where councillors will make their final budget decision in February

PROTECTING front line services will be Calderdale Council’s top priority when agreeing its budget, which is likely to mean around 200 redundancies.

The council Cabinet’s proposals for consultation - agreed at their meeting on Monday night - are now subject to a public consultation process before they are finally discussed at a full meeting of Budget Council on February 28.

The budget is likely to mean around 200 redundancies for council employees and dozens more could go as staff take voluntary early retirement and vacant posts are scrapped.

The council needs to save £13.8 million this year and £21.6 million next year, the meeting heard.

Public meetings to explain the plans begin with a meeting at 2pm on Monday, January 24, at St Paul’s Church, Sowerby Bridge. There is a second meeting on Tuesday, January 25, at 6pm at North Bridge Leisure Centre, Halifax.

Consultation on the budget proposals will run for three more weeks ending on Monday, February 14, and will finally be discussed at a full meeting of Budget Council on February 28.

Following feedback already received from the public the budget will aim to protect front line services by reducing waste within the council, improving efficiency, flattening the management structure, streamlining services and encouraging cross-council working, as well as investigating where services can be shared between councils and other public bodies, say council Liberal-Democrat and Labour coalition leaders Couns Janet Battye and Tim Swift.

Meanwhile Conservative group leader Coun Stephen Baines said the devil would be in the detail and, as yet, there was “no detail”, he said.

Council deputy leader Coun Swift (Labour, Town) said: “Our highest priority is to maintain direct services to local people, and especially to vulnerable local people, and we are proposing to put about £1.5m extra into this – for older and disabled people, for vulnerable children and young people, and into neighbourhood services.

“We are also proposing that there should be no increase in Council Tax next year, nor any pay increase for staff.”

Council leader Coun Battye (Lib Dem, Calder) said public consultation so far had proved its worth in gauging people’s priorities and this would continue.

“As we did with the public consultation exercise, we will be collecting, collating and analysing these responses to inform our final proposals which will be agreed at a further Cabinet meeting on Monday, February 14, before going forward to Budget Council on Monday February 28.”

Coun Baines (Con, Northowram and Shelf) said councillors needed to see the figures.

A Coalition Government grant had ensured Council Tax would remain at the same level, reducing what would have been a two and a half per cent increase back to zero.

“These are extremely difficult times for us but we need to remember why they having to be done, because the last Labour Government just built up the national debt.

“There are going to be difficult decisions.

“The proposals put forward are in the right area - we won’t be looking to reduce it by half a per cent just to grab headlines,” he said.

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