Big shake-up as £80m cuts bite

A WIDE-RANGING package of cuts and price rises was revealed this week to help bridge a £80m gap in the Sheffield town hall budget over the next year.

Part of the biggest shake-up of council services in decades, it encompasses everything from reducing the hours of libraries and numbers of mobile libraries to cutting numbers of park rangers and Police Community Support Officers.

Bins will be emptied on Saturdays, which the council says will save money because fewer vehicles will be required. Refuse collectors may also able to start their rounds from 5am instead of 7am and end at up to 8pm instead of 6pm.

Charges for parking and social care for some people are going up.

Four leisure centres - Graves Tennis and Leisure Centre, Springs Leisure Centre, Heeley swimming pool and Stocksbridge Leisure Centre - are to be passed to specialists Sheffield International Venues.

But Woodbourn Road athletics track at Attercliffe is facing closure.

The raft of economies is being accompanied by a radical shift in culture, with the Liberal Democrat authority looking, in some instances, to community organisations and other groups to move in where it is stepping back. They will be encouraged to get involved with the running of community libraries and some park activities.

Library books could be delivered by meals on wheels or community transport staff. They could be available in other public buildings or business premises.

Young people could be given ‘credits’ to decide individually how they want to spend money that would otherwise be spent on youth services, giving them the opportunity, for example, to spend it on holiday schemes run by community groups or businesses.

“In many respects, the proposals are about doing things differently rather than cutting services,” said chief executive John Mothersole.

The council said the package was designed to protect key services and jobs. It announced earlier this month that another 270 posts are being lost over the next year, taking the total since last summer to 731.

Council leader Paul Scriven said it was not a “slash and burn” budget but the result of months of hard work “and a determination to work smartly to protect as many front-line services as possible in what are the toughest economic times this council has seen for a generation”.

Commitments are being given to keep open all local libraries, protect funding for vulnerable children and adults, maintain the road repair budget and weekly bin collections, keep open public toilets and to continue funding community projects through the Community Assemblies.

Some of the savings are coming as a result of schools taking charge of their own spending. Where the council provides services to schools, they will be on a “full cost recovery basis”, such as for music, arts, outdoor education and governor support, which have been subsidised in the past.

Charges for social care are increasing – but only for people who can afford it, says the council.

Some of the budget measures are already proving controversial. Opposition has emerged immediately to the proposed closure of Rushey Meadows residential respite care home for children with severe learning difficulties in Bannerdale Road.

Parents have raised worries about the effect on their children and today (Thursday) they are due to meet Colin Ross, council cabinet member for children and young people’s services.

City Labour leader Julie Dore, who is in line to lead the council if Labour wins the May elections, said: “Labour are appalled by the size of the Government cuts. It’s too much to ask people to accept cuts of £80m to local services. These cuts will affect real people, as can be seen all too clearly with the Lib Dems’ plans to close Rushey Meadow respite centre which provides care for children with disabilities.

“This year’s cuts are just the beginning. We’ve already been told that next year and the year after that the Government will be asking local people to see their services slashed even further. This is just not acceptable.

“This is what local people can expect from a Tory/Lib Dem Government and a Lib Dem council which is refusing to stand up for Sheffield.”

Labour will draw up its own budget, which will be presented to the council on March 4.