THE cost of dying in York is set to rise, and up to 35 jobs could be lost, under budget proposals by cash-strapped council chiefs.

City of York Council's ruling executive will next week consider the proposed spending and saving plans for 2007/08, which demand efficiency savings of £4.799 million.

In a budget described by the council's head of finance, Peter Steed, as "very tight" , there are savings in several departments, and a number of redundancies.

But charges are frozen for standard-stay car parks, on-street parking and season-tickets for contract parking.

Savings include increasing the cost of cremations by £41 - or 8.3 per cent; increasing non-residential care charges by five per cent over inflation; and increasing rent on council-owned land.

Mr Steed said many of the posts being scrapped were already vacant, but there could be up to 19 redundancies.

Other savings include:

  • Increasing music tuition fees
  • Increased income through Park & Ride contracts
  • Greater car park revenue, through increased usage
  • Abandoning plans for a Safe City Coordinator
  • Reducing stress counselling for council employees
  • Reduced landfill costs, as a result of increased recycling
  • Increasing commercial waste charges by 10.5 per cent
  • New charges for planning advice, and reducing consultation areas
  • More efficient telephone, internet and IT contracts
  • General efficiency savings and restructuring of departments
  • Disabled care recipients will also face a reduction in their existing discount. At present, 50 per cent of disability benefits are disregarded when charging for care, but this would be reduced to 35 per cent, bringing in an extra £244,000.

Outlining the budget report, author Mr Steed wrote: "Setting the 2007/08 budget is a difficult process and hard choices need to be made.

"However, these proposals will enable the council to maintain its existing quality services (such as education and social care) while investing in key priorities and areas of need."

The council is expected to increase its share of council tax by 4.5 per cent - the maximum allowed after the authority was threatened with capping last year.

On increasing cremation fees, executive member for neighbourhood services Coun Andrew Waller said: "Cremations use a lot of energy, and energy costs have gone up a lot above inflation.

"It (the crematorium) has had considerable investment in buildings and equipment, and that's reflected in the increases in the cost."

Cremations currently cost £495 each. The increase would take that to £536.

As The Press reported last summer, the council has been forced to upgrade equipment due to new environmental laws to control emissions caused when mercury fillings melt.

On the job losses, Ben Drake, York Unison branch secretary, said: "We are negotiating over individual proposals and obviously trying to make sure that all individual situations are dealt with.

"It is not as drastic as last year, but nevertheless the council remains under-funded.

"It has been a problem year on year that funding resources from central Government keep on getting reduced, which puts the council in a difficult position."

The budget will go before the council executive on January 16, and then full council on February 21.

Council chief defends budget

COUNCIL leader Steve Galloway defended the budget, and hit out at Labour criticism.

He said: "The Lib Dem budget addresses the need to invest an additional £2 million in care support facilities for our elderly and disabled residents."

Responding to Dave Merrett, see below left, Coun Galloway said he should "put up or shut up" and accused him of selectively quoting tiny parts of the proposals.

Coun Galloway said: "Preparation of the council's budget this year has been more routine given that we knew both what our total expenditure would be limited to, and also had advanced notice of both Government grant and council tax ceiling levels.

"A difficulty has arisen as a result of further reductions in central Government's Supporting People grant."

He said there were also "unknowns" such as the cost of staff job evaluations, and the implications of increasing waste disposal costs.

He said York now had the second lowest unitary authority council tax in the country, and said once new jobs were accounted for, the net loss would be about ten staff.

He said improvements were being made to waste collection and recycling; and an integrated planning approach taken to developing of the British Sugar and York Central sites.

Coun Galloway called some of Coun Merrett's criticisms disingenuous, and said the future of highway maintenance rested on the council's PFI bid.

City residents 'let down'

THE budget proposals have been described as "extremely disappointing" by City of York Council's opposition chief.

Labour leader Dave Merrett said: "Yet again, the Liberal Democrats have significantly let down York residents. It is very concerning that the Lib Dems are proposing such massive cuts to services, and job losses across the council, which can only exacerbate the negative effect on services for residents."

He particularly criticised the increases in social care charges and the scaling back of adult social services; cuts in stress counselling and training for council staff; the £375,000 cut in the Highways budget over three years; the cut to consultation notices on planning applications, and community planning; a cut to ward committee funding; and the decision not to fund the Safe City Coordinator post.

Coun Merrett said: "Crime and community safety are a major concern in the city, yet the Lib Dems are not giving proper budgetary consideration to this issue. When we consider the other cuts, ultimately the poorest and most in need residents are going to be hit hardest, especially with the rise in social care charges and restrictions on service provision."

Anxious times

PENSIONERS in York are likely to be very anxious about the increased cremation cost, an older people's campaigner has warned.

James Player, of Age Concern York, said: "I think people will be very concerned. From experience of dealing with older people, there is nothing they fear more than leaving a situation where there is difficulty with regard to meeting funeral costs, and if you are the one responsible for paying, you will be a close relative, bereaved and grieving, and the last thing you want is to worry about where money is coming from.

"It's a big issue for older people, which they might well be anxious about."