More spending cuts – but resistance to bin changes

ANTI-CUTS DEMONSTRATION    Demonstrators outside the Sheffield Town Hall.      4 March 2011
ANTI-CUTS DEMONSTRATION Demonstrators outside the Sheffield Town Hall. 4 March 2011

AN £80M package of spending cuts in Sheffield has been formally approved for the next year – now it’s time to draw up more.

Another exercise is under way to identify savings at the town hall with a target of £35m for the following year, 2012/13.

Once again officers are floating the idea of fortnightly bin collections – and once again local politicians are making clear their opposition.

But if the council is to avoid hitting key areas such as education and social services, the pressure will remain to find other ways of meeting financial targets.

Switching from weekly to fortnightly bin collection would bring Sheffield into line with neighbouring districts such as Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and parts of north Derbyshire.

Chief executive John Mothersole said: “Remaining cuts for the next two years will be very deep. We have given ourselves a year to look at options – one could be fortnightly bin collections, to save £2.4m.

“Our two biggest expenses are children’s and adults social services, which would be very difficult to cut.”

The budget approved last Friday avoided the closure of leisure centres and libraries and, said ruling Liberal Democrats, hitting frontline services, but the authority is cutting 270 jobs to add to the 461 that have already gone. Other savings have come from efficiencies and freezing pay rises.

Increasingly, the council is looking to work with other organisations such as the NHS, police and voluntary sector.

Mr Mothersole said: “Whatever the council spends its money on at the moment will have to be cheaper, while some services will have to be provided by someone else or not exist.

“We hope we can avoid closure of any facilities such as libraries. Libraries are an example of where you could seek more community involvement to help keep them running.”

Lib Dems have repeated their pledge to keep the weekly bins service if they retain power after the elections.

Leader Paul Scriven said: “There is no plan to switch to fortnightly bin collections. In fact, Liberal Democrats specifically ruled out the idea as part of this year’s budget-setting process.

“I think it’s important to listen to local people when it comes to these vital services that everyone uses.

“Sheffielders are not telling me that they want to go to a fortnightly collection.”

Labour say that if they take control in May, they do not know “what sort of mess the Liberal Democrats will have left us” and “it would be impossible to say exactly what we would or would not have to cut in next year’s budget”.

Green Party leader Jillian Creasy said: “I think there will be problems going fortnightly. There should be a root and branch review of the city’s whole waste service to see what efficiences can be made.”

Labour believe they can find £500,000 for an apprenticeship scheme for 16 to 19-year-olds, reinstate 10 Police Community Support Officers, put £400,000 back in adult social care and £260,000 into activities provided by the voluntary, community and faith sectors, restore £190,000 cuts to Children’s Centres and restore £180,000 cuts to Sheffield Galleries and Museums Trust.

Overall, Labour say they would inject £2.4m back into the budget, finding much of the money from a Government business growth fund.

They accused the Lib Dems of setting a budget for the next year that would only patch up problems, storing more significant issues for future years.

But the opposition group stopped short of trying to defeat the Lib Dems, preferring to wait until May, when they hope to have an electoral mandate.

Coun Creasy criticised Labour for not joining them to safeguard vital services for vulnerable people. “If Labour had supported our budget proposal, cuts to Sure Start, Police Community Support Officers and other important services to young and older people would have been avoided.”