THE worst Coventry council cuts budget in living memory with 1000 jobs losses and most community services axed is unveiled today.
Leading Labour councillors warn today’s pre-budget report is a defining moment, with a raft of heavy cuts which people “will see and feel”.
Gone would be nearly all youth clubs, children’s centres, libraries, community centres, play centres and adult education centres unless community volunteers step in to run them – to save just £5million a year.
It compares with a dramatic £10million extra a year for social work and to tackle a crisis in child protection since the murder of Daniel Pelka and an Ofsted “inadequate” rating. A steep rise in children “at risk” of abuse has left a huge deficit in children’s services, as we revealed this month.
Today’s budget plans also propose:
* The popular annual Godiva Festival in the War Memorial Park being held once every two years (see Observer website homepage).
* Major funding cuts to charities helping the vulnerable.
* Reduced 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.
* Fewer school lollipop ladies, unless schools can afford to run them.
* Closing the Priory Visitor Centre in Priory Row, which showcases archeological findings from the city’s first cathedral.
Councillors say the number of managers has halved, in line with staff reductions to just 9,000 council workers. But 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.
Council leaders blame disproportionate government “austerity” funding cuts to councils – with grants halved by 2017 compared with 2010, amounting to £95million removed from Coventry’s economy. About £24million government grant is expected to be lost next year alone.
Councillor Damian Gannon, cabinet member for finance, told the Observer the council could no longer find the cuts in efficiency savings which “only have a little impact on services”, adding: “These are cuts that people see and feel.”
He warned that “people will be losing services they’ve come to take for granted.”
Today’s “pre-budget report” assumes a two per cent pay rise for council staff, while a decision about Council Tax rises will await news of whether the government intends to force councils to hold referendums if they want an increase above one per cent.
The proposals will go to cabinet on December 2 and a public consultation before a final budget setting meeting in February. They plan ahead until 2017/18 to plug an expected £65million blackhole, when community services closures which start next year could be completed.
The council’s wants to concentrate services in the city centre and a handful of the most deprived communities, while continuing to bid for government and European funding to help “kickstart” Coventry’s economy.
They include the Friargate development for 1000s of office jobs around Coventry station, with a new council HQ becoming the first tenant. The budget also assumes delays until at least 2017 in plans to radically redevelop the southern half of Coventry city centre, as the Observer revealed this month.
In addition to the extra £10million a year for children’s services, a one-off £3million from council reserves next year will deal with the number of “at risk” youngsters with child protection plans. It has risen dramatically to around 900, while around 600 children are in care.
Coun Gannon said the “frequency” of street cleaning could be reduced, including removing rubbish and graffiti.
Work will continue to identify precisely which facilities and centres will be closed.
More than £12million is allocated for redundancy payments. All but the most vital frontline staff are invited to take voluntary redundancy or early retirement.