Council forced to cut services to public

Published on Tuesday, 08 February 2011 15:16
Posted by Scott Buckler

Manchester City Council has today (Feb 8th) published its proposed budget for 2011/12, setting out how it will make £109 million of savings over the next financial year, rising to £170m in the 2012/13


The Council's financial position, and proposals for dealing with it, are set out in the reports to be considered by its Executive on Wednesday 16 February.

Although the Council anticipated a reduction in central funding and had planned to make substantial savings, the Government's financial settlement meant £60 million more savings would have to be found next year.

Overall the Council needs to make 25% savings over the next two years.

While the council has already made efficiency savings of £55 million over the last two years - and was planning to make £96m savings between 2010 and 2013 - the scale and speed of savings  required means they can no longer be achieved through efficiencies alone.

The Council has had to face difficult decisions about spending priorities and  reductions in services.

Its strategy in doing so is focused on targeting funding where it will make the most difference to residents, particularly the most vulnerable, and  promoting economic growth to stimulate investment and jobs and make sure Manchesterpeople are well-placed to benefit.

Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council, said: "Putting this budget together has involved the most difficult, and in many ways most unpalatable, process I have been involved in since I was first elected to  the Council.

"I cannot and will not pretend that the financial position in which we have  been placed is anything other than bad news. Manchester is the fourth most deprived local authority area in the country but is among the top five hardest hit local authorities.

"But we are doing everything we can to protect and maintain the services which people need and make sure funding is targeted where it will make the most positive difference."

Details of how proposed savings would be achieved are contained in a series of Executive reports, which can be read on the Manchester City Council website. The reports show a department by department breakdown for: adult services, children's services, neighbourhood services and the corporate core.

For adult services, savings of £39.5m - representing 21% of the adults budget - have been identified. The service will have to stop providing some things, charge more for others or ask partner agencies or community groups to provide the service.

This includes the closure of Manchester Advice, in recognition of the availability of new city-wide legal advice provision, and a concentration  of services on those deemed most in need. The Supporting People grant - which allows the Council to help people in need stay in their homes - has been reduced by £12.6m (35%), although the Council will top this up by £4m.

Although we have put in extra social care funding, in recognition  of an aging population, we will be providing less care to people, more strictly defining our eligibility criteria and reassessing the charges for the services we provide. We will have to focus the social care support we give the most vulnerable - elderly, frail and disabled residents.

For  children's services, savings of £45.1m - representing 26% of the children's services budget - have been identified. Safeguarding of vulnerable children remains paramount and we will be increasing the number of social workers we employ. We will also be  increasing our budget for looked after children by more than £6m, in recognition of the levels of need that exist in Manchester.

However, the council will cease to directly provide many youth services. This means, for example, that we will transfer the responsibility for running youth centres to partner agencies such as  voluntary groups. We will still have a commissioning budget - of more than £1m - to commission services from such groups. Where other organisations cannot take over youth centres, they will close.

We will also transfer the universal provision of early years activities, including Sure Start facilities, and commission a more targeted family offer from local providers, in order to ensure the needs of the most vulnerable are met.

For neighbourhood services, £31.2m - representing 29% of the neighbourhood services budget - of  savings have been identified. These will include changes to the waste and recycling services, a review of library services including the potential  closure of five small libraries which are less well-used and all close to better provision and the review of library opening hours and  mobile provision and a review of parking controls including charging and Sunday restrictions will be undertaken.

Public toilets, with the exception of those on Mount Streetwill close, as will Levenshulme and  Miles Platting swimming pools, highways services will be reviewed to concentrate on maintenance and there will be a move away from street cleaning between midnight and 6am.

Arcadia, Ardwick, Ten Acres leisure centres and Debdale Sailing Centre will close but we will be seeking alternative  management arrangements. We hope to transfer the management Abraham Moss leisure centre to AbrahamMossHigh School.

We will also be consolidating local neighbourhood teams, merging services which currently exist independently such as Street Management and  Manchester Contracts.

For the corporate core, which  includes "back room" departments such as finance and personnel, £33.9m of savings have been identified. This represents 35% of the corporate core's budget, which is significantly more than the proportion of savings being  sought from frontline services. These include a restructure of IT, HR and Research and policy and a review of corporate property.

Some  civic events, such as the annual Lord's Mayor reception, will be  cancelled. Savings will also be made in communications, through reduced  staffing and advertising and a review of council publications Manchester  People and the Life In ward newsletters which will no longer be  distributed to every home in the city, concentrating instead on online and  digital television. There will also be less spent on events in the city.

In total, the Council needs to lose about 2,000 posts and we aim to do this through a programme of voluntary severance and voluntary early retirement. This programme is primarily being funded through use of reserves that were  set aside for major capital programmes.

It is anticipated that approximately 41% of the staff leaving the organisation will be managers.

Councillor Bernard Priest, Executive Member for Finance, said: "There has been some suggestion that Manchester City Council has somehow  been hoarding our reserves while having to lay off staff.

"I want to make it perfectly clear - this is untrue. Our reserves had been set aside to pay for necessary projects, such as new school buildings, job-creating projects in the city centre and the essential refurbishment  of Central Library. Our voluntary package is primarily being funded  through raiding these reserves. There is clearly an element of risk in this.

"It has also been implied if reserves were spent on staffing then it would  mean that the job cuts we have announced would not need to go ahead. This is also untrue. Reserves can be used once - then they are gone, which is why we are now using them for the voluntary severance schemes."

We will be reducing the amount of grant funding available to voluntary sector  organisations, but will still have a commissioning budget of £31m.  This represents a cut of 22%, which is less than the average cut for the  corporate core of 35% and less than the Council average of 26%. This  recognises the role of the voluntary sector and a review of the support offered to these groups by the Council, will provide an enhanced and  refocused service to support Manchester's priorities with a clear and  evidence-based process.

The Council acknowledges that these difficult decisions will affect many  people across the city and it is therefore being proposed that, as in 2010/11, there will be a freeze on council tax this year.

It is also proposed that the Council will set up the Manchester Investment Fund. If approved, the Council will ringfence £37m of existing  spend. We will also request that partner agencies set aside funding in  this way to create a pot of pooled resources. This resource will then be  used by public sector organisations in the city to work together to fund  services for those families with the most complex needs.

"Creating the Manchester Investment Fund demonstrates the kind of innovative thinking for which the city is renowned and I hope it will be a small chink of light in what is otherwise extremely challenging," Sir Richard added.

"The creation of this fund means we can share resources with our cash-strapped public sector partners in order to target funding effectively on those in  need. We see this as being a long-term initiative which could deliver significant benefits to Manchester people.

"The cuts outlined above will have a significant impact on the services Manchester people have come to expect, but they are  necessary in order to concentrate our efforts on what is most important at  this difficult time - that is helping the most vulnerable in our city and  nurturing the conditions that will help Manchester grow.

"We will remain at the heart of the Combined Authority and strive to drive a regional growth agenda within the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities that will strengthen the prospects for residents and reduce dependency."

The final budget will be decided at the full Council meeting on Wednesday 9 March.

Source: ©Manchester CC


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