Tyne & Wear

Councils will 'go bust', Newcastle City Council leader warns

Newcastle City Library
Image caption Newcastle's £24m "super library" opened in June 2009 and is said to be safe from closure

Budget cuts of £90m at Newcastle City Council have been called "horrendous" by the council's Labour leader.

Nick Forbes said proposals to cut 1,300 out of 10,500 jobs, close libraries and pools, slash theatre grants and cut social services would be "damaging".

He claimed if the situation did not change nationally councils would be "going bust" by 2018.

Liberal Democrat opposition leader David Faulkner said the council should think of more "creative" solutions.

"Our predictions show that by 2018 the council won't have the money that it needs to even to provide the statutory responsibility that we have," Mr Forbes said.

"I think, unless something changes fundamentally at a national level, we'll see councils around the country going bust."

Mr Faulkner said the council had, in some cases, made the wrong choices.

'Creative thinking'

"I can understand the need to protect the vulnerable and we will support some of the proposals - moving away from weekly bin collections, I think it's inevitable, many local authorities have done that," Mr Faulkner said.

"Cuts to some front-line services may be necessary but I'd like to see a little more creative thinking about how we can structure and reorganise services rather than just cut them all."

He said, for example, millions of pounds could be saved on the city's energy bill.

Branch secretary for Unison at the council, Paul Gilroy, said his members were reacting to the news with "shock, anger and disappointment".

"The budget situation, which we are sympathetic to, that the council's in, is so much worse than the previous years," he said.

"Do you save admin workers or do you save children's social workers? Do you save a library or do you save a day centre?

"[It] is actually a much wider discussion to be had and that's about the future of local government, it's about fair funding for local government."

The council is to freeze council tax to help "hard-pressed" families and Mr Forbes said the council's commitment to a 'living wage" would continue.

Budget cuts

The draft budget proposals for the next three years include:

  • Shutting 10 out of 18 libraries
  • Increasing parking and resident permit charges, introducing evening charges
  • Reducing budgets for social, housing, financial and related support and reviewing social services
  • Reducing the number of people receiving social care support by £5,819,00, delayed to year three
  • Reducing Sure Start provision
  • Cutting by £7,531,000 the budget for street cleaning, litter removal, maintenance of green space and the city floral programme
  • Cutting budgets for maintaining roads and pavements
  • Shutting Newcastle City Pool and reviewing the City Hall
  • Reducing support for the arts, cultural organisations and museums
  • Closing some community buildings
  • Reducing council office buildings from 16 to three
  • Cutting council administrative costs by £4,111,000
  • Introducing fortnightly bin collections

Mr Gilroy said people did not yet realise how badly they were going to be affected by the cuts and should take notice of the situation.

"A story in the newspaper today is around your chips tomorrow, isn't it? And the worry will be that people will just get bored by it," he said.

"If people want to save their libraries then they have to commit to saving their libraries.

"There's a slightly macabre joke in Newcastle at the moment that the only thing that's not going to get cut is the grass. Virtually every service across Newcastle is being affected in some way."

The budget proposals will be sent out to consultation until February 2013 with a final decision in March.

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