HARD decisions, job losses and cuts to public services are on the way, the leader of Rotherham Borough Council warned this week.
In an open letter to taxpayers, Cllr Roger Stone laid out the daunting future facing the borough’s residents, admitting: “Tough times lie ahead.”
He added: “The situation in which we find ourselves is unprecedented.
“It is inevitable that some services will have to stop.
“The decisions we are taking now will make a difference to the lives of people in Rotherham for years to come, and we take our responsibilities very seriously.”
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Cllr Stone did not give details of where any cuts would come but said that a full review of the local authority’s 2010/11 budget was now under way.
The council leader said that reductions already announced, such as a reduction of £6 million revenue in grant funding and the loss of £3 million in Local Area Agreement reward cash, would hit Rotherham hard.
A possible freeze on council tax increases would also take its toll on council coffers, he added.
Parts of the council are already facing deep cuts, with the Children and Young People’s Services department having to save £2.4 million despite finishing 2009/10 more than £4 million in the red.
Despite the bleak future he outlined, Cllr Stone insisted that the council would take “a calm and measured approach to our decision-making” and that “the people of Rotherham are now, and will remain, our priority.”
Here is Cllr Stone’s letter in full:
'Dear Sir, It is clear from the announcements made in recent weeks and the messages that are coming out of the new coalition Government that tough times lie ahead for everyone.
We as a council—along with the rest of the public sector—are aware that we are facing some very difficult decisions.
In the light of the budget reductions being placed on local government, we have no choice but to look seriously at all our current and future spending plans.
The situation in which we find ourselves is unprecedented.
We will not be able to shy away from the fact that there are areas where we will need to prioritise, to become more efficient, and to deliver better public services with even greater value for money.
However, what I can tell the people of Rotherham now is that our priority will be to protect services—particularly those which mean most to our vulnerable families and groups.
We will scrutinise the way we do business and challenge the ways in which we work to ensure that in the future, with a much reduced budget, the most-needed services can continue.
Our focus must be on the customers we serve, the communities and families of Rotherham—and not on the structure of our organisation.
We will identify where we can work with our partners in the public, private and voluntary sectors more effectively and efficiently.
There may be areas where we can transform our services by being more creative about how they are delivered, and it is true to say that there are some areas where we believe it is in the best interests of local people for services to be delivered in new and different ways, and possibly even by other organisations.
It is inevitable that some services will have to stop.
Where we believe services, projects and initiatives are delivering clear benefits to communities in Rotherham, we will fight for them to continue - even where national funding has been withdrawn.
Good examples of this will include the continuation of free swimming for younger and older people, at least until the end of the summer holidays, the continuation of work to ensure community cohesion, and the work successfully undertaken to attract new business and other investment into Rotherham.
As you will appreciate, these discussions have been underway for some time, as they are lengthy and complex. The decisions we are taking now will make a difference to the lives of people in Rotherham for years to come, and we take our responsibilities very seriously.
For that reason, we are avoiding the temptation to respond with knee-jerk reactions, and we are taking a calm and measured approach to our decision-making, which will be based around the priorities which as a council we have agreed to focus on:
Making sure no community is left behind.
Providing quality education, ensuring people have opportunities to improve their skills, learn and get a job.
Ensuring care and protection are available for those people who need it most.
Helping to create safe and healthy communities.
Improving the environment.
The scale of the financial challenge is so great that we have decided to revisit our spending plans for this year and revise the 2010/2011 budget which was agreed by Full Council in March.
Myself and my elected member colleagues will do so in the light of the huge reductions already announced, such as a reduction of £6 million revenue in the grant funding we receive to deliver specific services—on top of the pressures we were already facing this year.
There could be a freeze on council tax increases, and we will also lose £3 million in Local Area Agreement reward grant - recognition for successes already achieved - on which a number of innovations and new developments for the future had been based.
We are working hard to reprofile our spending so that we can concentrate on using the remaining LAA reward grant for priority activities.
We also have to look ahead and anticipate the likely impact of the Government's Comprehensive Spending Review, which is scheduled for the autumn, and the effects of which are likely to be felt for some years to come.
A significant amount of the council budget is employee salaries and, regrettably, it is unlikely that we will be able to deliver a new budget without the loss of some staff - although we will be seeking to keep the number to a minimum—alongside the “freeze” which we currently have in place on all but the most essential job vacancies.
We have already informed staff that for a limited period, a number of flexible working options are being made available to help reduce our wage bill and minimise the need for redundancy, which the council seeks to avoid wherever possible.
These include part-time working, term-time only working, unpaid career breaks, buying additional leave and early or flexible retirement.
All applications will be considered but not necessarily approved, depending upon the costs to be incurred and the requirements of the individual service where they work.
Where we are forced to lose staff, the council will adhere to the principles of transparency and fairness, and will work to minimise the trauma for any staff involved.
We are at the start of what will be a very long process, which will see unprecedented changes in the way local authorities work.
Increasingly, we will be helping people to help themselves while protecting non-negotiable services which provide a safety net for the most vulnerable.
Wherever possible, we will be talking to our communities and to our staff about the best way in which to deliver those changes.
Tough times and tough decisions lie ahead—but the people of Rotherham are now, and will remain, our priority.
Cllr Roger Stone
Rotherham Borough Council.