Calderdale councillors vow protecting the vulnerable is their priority as they debate cuts to Christmas lights and gritting

Christmas lights in Halifax. Calderdale Council could stop funding them as it struggles to find savings of �55 million over the next three years. It is hoped businesses could sponsor them in future
Christmas lights in Halifax. Calderdale Council could stop funding them as it struggles to find savings of �55 million over the next three years. It is hoped businesses could sponsor them in future

CARE needs to be taken to ensure short term savings do not lead to long term losses and put vulnerable people at risk, councillors warned tonight.

Members of Calderdale’s economy and environment scrutiny panel were debating proposed cuts in the department as part of the council’s budget consultation.

Christmas lights, the winter gritting service and street lighting levels could all take a hit as the council tries to make savings of £55 million over the next three years.

Residents could also be made to pay £10 for new wheeled bins and parking charges could rise by 10p per hour from 2014.

Meanwhile, temporary accommodation and transport services for vulnerable people could be affected too.

Councillors said it was important to ensure the proposed cost-cutting measures would not create a false economy.

Colin Stout (Ind, Brighouse) said: “We can save a few bob by not gritting or fixing potholes, but we might end up paying out millions in ‘where there’s a blame, there’s a claim’ trips, falls and broken suspensions.”

They dismissed the idea a hike in parking charges could hit town centre trade, noting that Calderdale’s charges would still be far lower than in neighbouring places such as Huddersfield, Bradford and Leeds.

But scrutiny panel chairman David Hardy (Lib Dem, Elland), and Scott Benton (Con, Brighouse) noted that axing festive light funding could hit shops in the run-up to Christmas.

Coun Hardy said: “Small businesses rely on a six to eight-week period over that time of year to generate maybe 40, 50 or 60 per cent of their income, and Christmas lights and everything else goes with it.

“Messing about with it is asking for disaster.”

It is hoped business sponsorship can be found for the lights instead.

Barry Collins (Lab, Illingworth and Mixenden), Cabinet member for economy and environment, said: “The council doesn’t want to be Scrooge but the issue we need to debate is is it right for the council to bear all the cost of festive lighting and should we look at different ways of funding what is an important element of celebrating Christmas in the local community?”

Councillors agreed protecting accommodation for Calderdale’s most vulnerable people, such as at Ryburn House, Halifax, was the priority.

Coun Collins said: “Given the current economic situation there is a clear increase in the number of people who are going to need support through this.

“If we can find other ways to save money to avoid it then we’ll do that.”

Coun Stout added: “Whatever the reason someone has left home, when one of our Calderdale citizens finds themselves in a vulnerable or homeless position we need to have a temporary place for them.”

Debate on the proposals will continue at the budget council meeting on February 27.