Decision made over axing of Calderdale libraries, waste centres and services in £2m worth of cuts
Senior Calderdale councillors have approved recommendations for around £2 million of cuts to services – but the more controversial of them will have to come back to Cabinet before being fully signed off.
In an debate including plenty of political acrimony, Tory opposition group leader Steven Leigh said his party would be calling the decision in for scrutiny.
Cabinet colleagues backed Leader of the Council Tim Swift’s amended recommendation for the cuts so that those particularly relating to savings options for waste services and libraries will come back to Cabinet before being finally approved.
Briefing papers to councillors indicate a mid-range scenario of having to save around £15 million next year to balance the budget, with loss of income due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic bringing budget issues to a head.
Coun Swift (Lab, Town), said there was no certainty of what Government funding would be forthcoming, and ongoing loss of income from fees and charges such as revenue from parking charges and leisure centre fees and ongoing loss of Business Rate and Council Tax income all impacted on the budget deficit.
Extra financial help given by Government so far did not fill the gap, he said.
Responding to criticism later in the meeting Coun Swift said: “We all value these services but we also have a legal duty to provide a balanced budget.”
Cabinet member for Resources, Coun Silvia Dacre said it was “absolutely devastating” for Labour to have to bring these proposals forward but after budget cuts over ten years under Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition and then Conservative Governments totalling £115 million had also contributed to this situation.
Seventy per cent of Calderdale’s budget was spent on statutory adults’ and children’s social care services, she said.
Cabinet heard an aim was to channel services to help those who most needed them.
Other Cabinet members explained the reasoning behind some of the proposals including that Calderdale provided more waste recycling centres than many other councils and it had not shut libraries where others had.
Coun Jenny Lynn (Lab, Park) said for example reducing waste recycling stations from five to possibly three would still leave a centre for the upper Calder Valley, lower Calder Valley and Halifax, and proposed library closures were cases where people would only have to travel another mile and a half or so to reach another,
Liberal Democrat Group Leader Coun James Baker (Warley) said it was only in September that Cabinet said an emergency would not be needed and the announced cuts had taken other party councillors by surprise and final proposals should come back before councillors.
“We would like an opportunity for a proper emergency budget,” he said.
Coun George Robinson (Con, Hipperholme and Lightcliffe) argued his ward would have lost two libraries in a matter of months and it would affect older people in the area.
The council had been able to find money for Elland Library, some funding for Square Chapel, which has just been rescued from administration, and funding or revenue support totalling more than £6 million for Halifax Piece Hall, he said, which impacted on the reserves it had available to be used in situations like this.
Coun Dacre (Lab, Todmorden) said reserves over the last decade had been used to maintain services at high level for Calderdale.
“Other councils may have their reserves but they don’t have many libraries and waste collection services.
“All councils have had to struggle one way or another with the fact their budgets were cut back brutally,” she said.
Coun Geraldine Carter (Con, Ryburn) said she was very disappointed with the report and raised concerns about the practical impact of some of the waste proposals
Points raised about impact on older people and a point raised by Coun Paul Bellenger (Lib Dem, Greetland and Stainland) on fewer waste transfer stations resulting on more costs clearing up fly-tipping were fair comment on the issues, said Coun Lynn.
Coun Rob Holden (Ind, Ryburn) said there had been a complete lack of engagement across parties and councillors should work together, and raised issues about changes to waste services and their impact.
Coun Leigh (Con, Ryburn) said: “We can look at other ways of dealing with these services without alienating most of the Calderdale population with things they have recently demonstrated they do not like.”