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1.9pc council tax rise planned for York as 240 jobs face axe
* Tax increase would help pay for adult care, say city leaders.
* But Government referendum decision could force rethink or people's vote.
* 120 jobs set to go in 2014/15, another 120 the year after.
* Free Minster Badges set to be replaced with £20 parking passes.
* Park&Ride concessionary fares could rise; Theatre Royal and museums face funding cut.
* £2.3 million for roads and paths schemes; £2.5 million more for adult social care; £100K more to help struggling residents.
* It's our toughest challenge yet, says chief executive.
COUNCIL tax bills in York could rise by 1.9 per cent next year and 240 council jobs are set to be axed over two years, under budget plans revealed by city leaders.
City of York Council has unveiled its proposals for saving £10.74 million in 2014/15 and £12.65 million the year after, with its final budget being decided at a meeting on February 27.
The proposed council tax increase will depend on the level at which the Government sets a "trigger-point" for how much local authorities can raise bills by without needing a referendum. This is set to be announced next week. City leaders have said a referendum in York would cost about £300,000.
The job cuts mean, by the end of 2015/16, the council will have shed about 750 positions since 2007/08, more than a quarter of its workforce. 120 jobs are expected to be lost in 2014/15 and about the same number the following year, with £284,000 being saved by axing or not filling senior management positions.
Under the proposals, changes to parking are set to see Minster Badges - which are free for residents and offer discounted daytime parking and free parking after 6pm - replaced with a new "regular user discount pass", which may cost £20 through biannual fees and bring £200,000 of extra income into the council. The Labour-controlled authority said this was an alternative to across-the-board increases in parking charges, with some parking spaces potentially being sold to businesses to raise £50,000.
Weekly charges for elderly people's homes are likely to rise by three per cent to raise £38,000 with the council planning to cut spending on children's respite care by £50,000 but saying it would not affect its availability. Day care for supported-living customers will reduce to save £29,000.
Concessionary fares on Park&Ride services are set to rise by 20p in 2014/15 and a further 10p the year after - with a £100,000 saving expected from a review of the overall concessionary fares system - and the operational budget for nine children's centres in the city will be cut by £30,000 next year. York Theatre Royal and York Museums Trust are set to see their council subsidies fall by £70,000 and £100,000 respectively, with £200,000 being cut from the authority's libraries budget and £140,000 from the community centres budget over two years.
The council said it would put an extra £2.5 million into adult social care next year and dedicate £2.3 million from its capital budget to improving roads and footpaths - although its revenue budget for highways will be reduced by £100,000 - with an announcement being made shortly about how money raised through fines from the controversial Lendal Bridge trial will be used for transport improvements.
The Museums Trust will also get £1.5 million from the capital budget for its development programme in the St Mary's Abbey area and for work on Exhibition Square. £2.4 million will be spent on modernising council houses, while pay-on-exit parking - which city-centre traders have called for - is set to be launched at Marygate car park in April.
Money will also be spent on improving "worn-out" streetlights, children's play areas and skate parks, repairing damaged bins and more alleygates. The War Memorial at Memorial Gardens will be repaired at a cost of £40,000 and the council will contribute £200,000 towards a new building at Huntington School, while a further £100,000 will be invested into the authority's Financial Assistance Scheme to provide support for residents who are struggling financially and £50,000 will go towards business rate discounts.
"By 2016, we will have delivered savings of £74 million since 2010/11, and by 2019/20 adult care costs are expected to account for 50 per cent of the council's net budget," said the authority's chief executive, Kersten England.
"The impact of these cumulative cuts and cost pressures cannot be underestimated. We've worked to protect frontline services for as long as possible for residents and, by comparison with other authorities, we have managed to maintain most of the services we provide through efficiencies and back-office and management reductions.
"However, we - and all of local government - are now facing our biggest challenge yet when it comes to deciding whether we can continue to deliver certain services and, if we do, how we can deliver them."
The £12.65 million in savings earmarked for 2015/16 include £5.4 million through the council's "transformation programme", Re-wiring Public Services, which it says will give residents more influence in decisions and how services are provided.
Council leader James Alexander said the proposed council tax rise would equate to an average of 37p a week for each resident and would pay for about half the increase in adult social care costs in 2014/15. He said accepting a "freeze grant" from the Government would mean £560,000 of extra savings having to be found, and the uncertainty over a council tax referendum made it "very hard for the council to plan its future finances".
He said he could "understand the concept of a referendum" on council tax levels, saying: "It's about asking people to decide, but I would like to know where the referendum is on the national budget, on bedroom tax, on income tax.
"All of us, across party lines, had hoped that, by now, the scale of Government cuts to local services would be reducing dramatically - this is not what is happening and it is becoming more difficult.
"It was with heavy hearts that we learned the Government's cuts for York are actually getting larger while the north is hit harder than the south. We will make realistic, responsible decisions in this budget round, despite how tough the choices are."
Coun Alexander said all council services had been reviewed and said: "As the cuts not only mount up year on year, but actually get larger, nobody can promise funding will be there for all these services indefinitely.
"My priority is to protect services, not undermine them. It is a mark of a civilised society that we treat our elderly residents and those with physical or learning difficulties as we would like to be treated. It's a promise we make to our future selves, but with rising demand, increasing numbers of complex cases and falling budgets, it's a promise we might not always be able to keep. We need to take a fundamental look at how our services work to make sure they deliver value for money and residents can continue to rely on them.
"We haven't ducked any of the big challenges facing the city so far and this will be no exception. The challenges we face are growing every year. We have listended closely to what residents have told us about services for the vulnerable, about roads and about the need to prioritise, and we remain determined to secure the future York residents deserve by making the right decisions now in the long-term interest of the city."
He said Minster Badges had not changed since the scheme was launched 25 years ago, meaning some non-York residents still had them, and the new passes would still allow cheap parking for a "small fee". He said: "We can no longer afford for non-residents to ride free on this scheme."
The proposals said an extra £40,000 would have to be saved in the council's highways services department, after changes to its winter maintenance programme - which saw gritting routes downgraded and salt bins withdrawn - did not meet their £60,000 savings target. The council said the extra money from roads would mainly come from "income generation".
Standard parking permit prices will be frozen but other Respark fees will be reviewed and could rise by five per cent. Food safety inspections may be outsourced to save £18,000, "one-off" savings of £120,000 will have to made at Yearsley Swimming Pool and Energise leisure centre because of delays in finding a private firm to run them, and the council will reduce its contribution to Fulford Cemetery by £10,000.
Meanwhile, £50,000 could be raised through more CCTV enforcement of bus lanes in 2014/15 and more automatic number-plate recognition cameras may also be introduced in 2015/16, which is tipped to raise £100,000.
The council said it was carrying out a complete review of how its £32 million West Offices HQ operates and is looking to cut the bill for running the building by £295,000 last year, which could include outsourcing cleaning and security services. It wants to raise an extra £30,000 through more "commercial use" of the Mansion House.
Opposition parties give their views on budget plans
CONSERVATIVE group leader Coun Chris Steward said the proposals were "as predictable as they are regrettable" and criticised Labour's plans not to freeze council tax and accept a Government grant.
The grant for pegging or reducing bills next year is equivalent to one per cent of 2013/14 council tax, which council leader James Alexander described as a "con" and said it would leave the authority having to make more savings. The council has also turned down similar grants in previous years, choosing to raise tax instead.
"They have cynically hiked it by as much as they can without having to let people have their say in a referendum," said Coun Steward, referring to the current expectation that the 'trigger point' for a residents' vote on council tax levels will be a proposed two per cent rise, although reports suggest it could be lowered to 1.5 per cent with the decision due to be announced next week.
"The savings contain no mention of the Arts Barge, allowances for Labour councillors or the vast expense of signage for 20mph areas. Instead, they are hitting basic services. Given the farce of the Lendal Bridge closure and the resulting fines, it will be viewed as a sad irony that the council is looking to increase its income even more from enforcement cameras and that one of the few perks for residents - the cheaper parking badge - is to go.
"There are many true savings which we welcome - including the outsourcing of some services which will provide better value - but generally this is again a budget York's residents will suffer in."
Coun Keith Aspden, who leads the Liberal Democrat group, said: "This budget shows Labour's priorities are all wrong and they are still not listening to local people.
"It is wrong to turn down a £750,000 Government freeze grant and raise council tax. It is wrong to remove frontline jobs while appointing highly-paid new managers. And it is wrong to cut basic services and increase charges for residents while wasting millions on city-centre vanity projects."
Green councillor Dave Taylor said: "It is miserable to see a Labour authority putting more hardworking council employees out of work, as well as hacking services and raising charges, but we do recognise that these are cuts imposed by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government.
"We would urge Labour to think more creatively and ditch the ludicrously expensive waste incinerator at Allerton and seek a cheaper solution based on reduction, reuse and recycling, as our financial projections would make these cuts far less damaging to the people of York and our council employees."
Disappointed but we'll protect York's arts reputation, says theatre boss
FOLLOWING the news that York Theatre Royal faces losing a large chunk of its council funding next year, its chief executive Liz Wilson said: "We have been aware of the decison to make a further cut of £70,000 to the council's investment for some time.
"It would be disingenuous not to say we are very disappointed about this decision. We are, of course, very aware of the difficulties our local authority is facing through cuts from central Government. The council is in an unenviable position.
"We have been working with the council, both with officers and members, to find ways to reduce the impact of this cut so that York Theatre Royal can continue to serve its community. We believe the people of York have the right to have affordable access to a high-quality cultural programme, as in any other city, and the theatre will work hard with the council and its wider community to ensure the great city of York keeps its reputation for world-class arts.
"York Theatre Royal is on course to raise £4 million to completely refurbish the theatre, upgrading all the public areas, transforming the auditorium and creating a new food and drinks venue in the city. The council is supporting this work and it shares York Theatre Royal's desire to continue to make the theatre more financially secure into the future. The theatre receives investment from both the Arts Council and City of York Council, but the biggest investment is from the general public through ticket sales.
"From 2014/15, for every £1 invested by the council, the theatre will put back £15 into the local economy. This will be one of the highest returns of any theatre in the country. The council appreciates the work York Theatre Royal brings to the city and we will continue to work alongside the local authority on getting the best value for our community."
A spokesman for York Museums Trust, which is set for a £100,000 funding cut in 2014/15, said: "We have known about this for some time and we are working on our 2014/15 budget accordingly."
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