Story: Richard Belbin
A clearer picture is starting to emerge about proposed budget cuts to services in Burngreave, although there are still few specific details. Proposals from the Lib-Dem group are available on the council website, which show the general departments and areas where cuts will be made, but do not, overwhelmingly, lay out precisely what this will mean for local services.
The majority of voluntary sector organisations supported by a council grant will see their funds cut by 15%. this includes advice services such as Pakistan Advice Centre, Firth Park Advice Centre & the Yemeni Community Association. Pitsmoor CAB will see a slightly smaller cut (12.5%) because as extra funds were made available to mitigate the effect of the loss of Financial Inclusion Fund (FIF) monies from central Government. Fortunately, the FIF scheme is to be extended as a result of public pressure on the Government. However, as even the official document accepts, this is likely to lead to a decrease in the number of hours opened and people helped, possibly as many as 2,000 clients, which could lead to loss of income for many local residents.
Hidden cuts to voluntary sector
The document skips over the fact that most voluntary groups are not funded via council grant aid, but by providing services that have been commissioned and paid for. These services too will be facing severe cutbacks, amounting to similar amounts, although they are not listed as such in the council documentation, and the job losses that will follow the cuts are completely ignored. At least £1,200,000 of services that are currently outsourced to the voluntary sector will be cut, and the actual figure is expected to be significantly higher than that.
Furthermore, a number of services (such as Carers Allowance, and ADHD services and some Activity Sheffield funding) are now to be paid from the new Early Intervention Grant, but the budget fails to note that this is being reduced by 10.9%, with the loss of services, jobs and skills that that will bring.
Within the council’s in-house services, the biggest cuts are faced by the Children Young People and Families and the Communities Portfolios. These will see the decimation of the Connexions service, charges being introduced for activities such a music lessons in schools, removing subsidies to childcare providers, fewer Community Support Officers and introducing charges for services to the elderly for those who ‘can pay.’ Services such as libraries and recycling centres should not see any actual closures, but there will be more restricted opening hours. Libraries will be increasing their charges, and will have a drastically reduced budget for new books, down by almost a third. Bring Out Your Rubbish Days are also to end. Museums will also face a shortfall, with staff reductions and the re-introduction of charges at Kelham Island in school holidays.
There will also be less support for small businesses and the unemployed and less democratic accountability, due a reduction in the number of council meetings and cuts in spend on ensuring residents are included on the electoral roll – which seems distinctly risky considering the farcical events at last year’s elections.
Activity Sheffield is facing severe cuts, with redundancies before the end of March and cuts in hours for remaining workers. Burngreave, will also lose the 3 additional workers funded by the North East Community Assembly, as they have yet to make decisions about how they will spend their budget. Provision for young people will be severely affected from April, with some activities ending completely.
There are also questions raised over other areas where savings are claimed but seem very unlikely to be made, eg the CYPD’s Business Strategy states ‘ICT services to be redesigned to produce a more efficient service’ – but the cost of redesigning the services is likely to be equal to any proposed savings anyway. A saving of £291,000 is claimed by ‘eliminating any inflationary pressure requested by providers’ without any evidence that such a figure could be met.
Range of the cuts
Other cuts that will affect Burngreave residents include:
15% reduction in grant to Creative Sheffield. Creative Sheffield was 52% funded by Yorkshire Forward during 2010/11 and that investment will stop altogether from 2011/12 onwards.
Reduction of Health & Safety officers, leading to fewer inspections of premises and advice to businesses.
Cleaning and repairs and maintenance carried out only to ‘minimum health and safety levels’
Loss of a dozen Rangers – hoping that more work will be done by volunteers.
In-person cash payments will no longer be accepted at Howden House, nor will postal cheque payments.
Post Office Fighting Fund (designed to keep open key local facilities) may be wound up and funds (almost half a million pounds) redistributed.
Loss of buses allowing ‘infirm’ people a link to surgeries and shops.
The opposition Labour group, which has inflicted various defeats over the minority Liberal administration recently, has said that they will also be proposing a budget. Labour group leader Julie Dore said:
“We’re putting together our own budget proposals as we speak. We will act as a responsible opposition in the best interests of local people and our budget will protect the most vulnerable people in our City to the best of our ability. The full details of Labour's budget will be presented to the Council on 4th March.”
Other than plans to keep open Rushey Meadows respite centre, there are no further details of their proposals. Given that local MP David Blunkett has advised his council colleagues not to oppose the Liberal budget, it is not expected to be wildly dissimilar.
Green councillors are also proposing an amendment. The numbers in the council chamber mean that Greens and Labour can out-vote the LibDems.
Councillor Jillian Creasy said:
"The cuts imposed on Sheffield City Council by the Coalition Government are unnecessary and unfair. If the government had closed tax loopholes, increased tax on the wealthy and bankers’ bonuses, there would be no need for any cuts to public services. As local councillors, we can see ways to make this budget more fair and democratic and to protect the vulnerable.”
“Our amendment will seeks to protect children, the elderly and victims of crime from the worst effects of the Coalition Government’s “slash and burn” approach to local government.”
“We invite the other parties to support to our proposals and are happy to talk to them to ensure these important services are protected on budget day.”
Campaign Against Cuts
Sheffield Anti-cuts Alliance are holding a protest against the cuts on budget day:
12 noon, Friday 4th March, Sheffield Town Hall
There will be further protests during the Liberal Democrat conference in March
4.30pm, Friday 11th March, Sheffield Town Hall
And there will be a national demonstration called by the TUC trade union.
TUC March for the Alternative, London, Saturday 26th March
More information on the Sheffield Anti Cuts Alliance website: http://www.sheffieldanticuts.wordpress.com