20th Oct, 2017

Coventry council budget finds cash for communities to run services

Coventry Editorial 25th Feb, 2015 Updated: 28th Oct, 2016

COVENTRY council has found £500,000 to help community volunteers and organisations who want to step in to run public services including libraries and youth clubs – as it passed a £15million cuts budget with a 1.9 per cent Council Tax hike.

Another £1million was found for culture and arts including the Godiva Festival and a City of Culture bid.

They were the two new announcements from finance cabinet member Damian Gannon as the Labour majority yesterday voted through his final budget plans reported in the Coventry Observer last week.

It is unclear if the £1million will avert a previously mooted proposal to cut back the hugely popular annual Godiva Festival in the War Memoral Park to once every two years after this year, which costs the council a net £300,000 to stage.

It is also unconfirmed where Coun Gannon’s ‘rabbit out of the hat’ funding announcements came from, although earlier plans to axe transport to school for disabled youngsters and school crossing patrols have been shelved until next year, partly by dipping into the council’s cash”reserves”.

Coun Gannon said it showed ruling Labour councillors had “listened” during a public consultation.

But he added the council could not respond to the public in saving unviable services, such as city’s 50 metre swimming pool.

He said the drastic cuts proposals resulted from the government’s “ideological attack” on councils, which had seen funding cut by a third since 2010. He has stated that figure is set to rise to a half by 2017/8, removing £95million from the city’s economy.

Budget proposals for the next three years include the ‘City Centre First’ plan, which Coun Gannon has said could close most council services in most communities – including libraries, youth clubs, children’s centres, community centres, adult education centres and more.

Savings of £5million a year by 2017/8 could come from concentrating those services in multi-use buildings in the city centre and just four other unspecified “disadvantaged” locations.

Coun Gannon said yesterday closing such services would only be made by a Labour council as a “last resort”.

Education cabinet member David Kershaw said communities and organisations including schools would be invited to step in to run libraries which could also become community hubs, while others were “not fit for purpose”.

He and other Labour councillors criticised reports of potential library closures, but came under fire from the Tory opposition for mixed messages from cabinet members over libraries.

Council leader Ann Lucas took a stab at the “Outraged middle classes” who were unhappy about cuts in their communities.

Labour councillor Ram Lakha said people in his Willenhall ward rightly felt there was a threat to their library, as he presented one of three petitions – the others coming from Earldson with an expected 4000 signatures, and Canley.

Conservative councillor Tim Sawdon said Coun Gannon’s speech was a “semi-Socialist class-ridden rant” which was a “korma” compared to (former Socialist Party councillor) Dave Nellist’s “vindaloo”.

Coun Sawdon’s Tory colleagues criticised the Labour council’s attempt to blame the Tories in government while ignoring better news nationally on the economy.

A Tory proposal to avoid Council Tax rises by instead cutting the budget for trades unions, taking £500,000 from reserves, and accepting a government grant as reward for doing so was dismissed by Labour councillors. They said it would only be a short-term fix with steeper Council Tax rises required in future.

As previously reported, the 1.9 per cent Council Tax rise is calculated as the equivalent of between 30p and 40p a week for the typical Coventry household.

A further 1000 council job losses are expected over three years.

Councillors say the number of managers has halved, in line with staff reductions to just 9,000 council workers.

But, as the Coventry Observer has highlighted, 22 senior officers continue to command total earnings of approaching or above £100,000, with chief executive Martin Reeves remunerated over £200,000 in salary and other benefits.

The budget identifies £15million savings as part of expected £65million budget cuts over three years.

Measures include:

* £13million extra this year for child protection in the wake of the Daniel Pelka tragedy, high numbers of children in care, and children’s services’ “inadequate” Ofsted rating.

* Funding cuts to charities helping the vulnerable.

* Potentially reducing opening hours at the cultural “crown jewels” such as the Herbert Art Gallery and transport museum.

* Less street cleaning and graffiti removal.

* Fewer sports pitches.

* Closing the Priory Visitor Centre in Priory Row, which showcases archeological findings from the city’s first cathedral.

* A £100million capital programme – spending on one-off projects – with the council continuing to seek to attract government and European grants for specific job-creation projects and road infrastructure.

The council will continue to promote the Friargate development for thousands of office jobs around Coventry station, with a new council HQ becoming the first tenant.

Labour councillors lambasted Mr Nellist’s and union Coventry Unison’s call to use “£81million” of cash balances/reserves.

Labour councillor John McNicholas claimed only £500,000 of that was “usable reserves”.

But Mr Nellist told ruling Cabinet members they had been able to find £14million from cash balances to loan to the Ricoh firm, Arena Coventry Limited, in 2013, now owned by London Wasps Holdings Limited.


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