Council approves £109 million budget cuts

Article published: Thursday, March 10th 2011

Councillors yesterday voted through next year’s budget cutting 25 per cent of Manchester City Council’s spending on public services, including the loss of 2,000 jobs. Vocal protestors twice forced the meeting to adjourn, urging councillors to vote against the settlement.

Protestors outside Manchester Town Hall. Photograph: Richard Searle

Shouts of “no ifs, no buts, no public sector cuts” and “vote with the people, not with the Tories” came from around 80 demonstrators in the public gallery, angry at the Labour-controlled council’s acquiescence to the government’s funding settlement. Onlookers were drawn from protestors fighting to save Manchester Advice, Sure Start and the successful campaign to save Levenshulme Baths, as well as Manchester Coalition Against Cuts.

For his own part, council leader Sir Richard Leese said in a statement after the meeting that “the scale of the cuts makes it impossible to put together a balanced budget – which we are legally obliged to do – without it having an impact on frontline services. We have done our best to minimise that impact.”

However, the council was already been planning to implement its own cuts: £96 million and 1,000 redundancies spread over three years had been planned for prior to the last election. Council chiefs insisted this would not have led to “front-line service” reductions, prompting cries of “liars” from onlookers. Nevertheless Leese condemned the ‘front loaded’ impositions by central government of £109 million lost this year, rising to £170 million the next, labelling them as “ideological cuts that are too fast and too deep.”

As the meeting drew on the depth of the cuts were laid out. Sure Start children’s centres, libraries, sports and leisure and “potentially all services for adults” will be hit, including cuts of over a third to the Supporting People Grant paying for home carers, the elderly, the homeless and people with mental health problems. The council was unable to resist from insisting that the scrapping of Manchester Advice would “improve access”, though few arguments were offered to support the claim.

Speaking for opposition councillors, Liberal Democrat leader Simon Ashley acknowledged Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles – a minister in his own party’s coalition government – was “making things worse and he shouldn’t be a secretary of state”. He also accused Labour of “inflating the impact of the cuts” for political purposes by deliberately targeting front line services, saying items of additional spending in the budget such as an extra £6 million for children in care ‘proved’ that finances were not as dire as made out.

Don’t blame us, guv

Strikingly, his claims match both Labour and the Conservative’s denial of any responsibility. Echoing Ashley’s dispute over just how much the council has to save, Pickles claims that Manchester has been “protected” from the worst cuts and only has to lower its budget by 15 per cent. The minister’s figures come from the government’s official use of ‘revenue spending power’, which excludes important funding streams such as the Direct Schools Grant and includes estimations of council tax income, a small part of Manchester’s budget expected to fall as the impact of the cuts bite.

In contrast, the Lib Dems said the successful fight to save Levenshulme swimming baths proved they could protect services. This was not well received by members of the public, who shouted “liar, shame on you, you did not save our baths,” and sarcastically enquired as to whether they had sought copyright permission before displaying Levenshulme campaign posters with party symbols emblazoned next to them.

Photograph: Richard Searle

In their alternative budget Lib Dems proposed that £12.2 million, just over 10 per cent of the planned cuts, should be rescued through several measures including cutting £2 million from consultants and council communications and sharing more services with local authorities. Additional income could be budgeted, it was claimed, by anticipating future revenue from schemes such as extending licensing for landlords across the city.

Labour councillors introduced their own amendment to reverse the decision to close Levenshulme Baths, stating it would be kept open until a replacement facility was built. Plans for other services were less concrete; promises were made to prioritise any extra funding that might become  available towards services for adult care, family support and pre-school children and to resolve to “ensure there were no gaps in provision” from the closure of advice services.

In the somewhat choreographed debate that followed Labour councillors poured scorn on Lib Dem proposals, noting how there were no practical details or recommendations included in the plans to cut consultants or communications and pointing out that a roll out of licensing would take up to 93 months, with “no evidence” it would raise more money than it costs.

Summing up, Leese said hopes of saving money through sharing services with other councils were “purely speculative” and accused the Lib Dems of being “fraudulent and fictitious” with their budget figures and “dishonest” in their claims.

The vote on the budget was split predictably along party lines. Yet despite the deafening chanting of “don’t vote for cuts” by protestors the budget was passed.

Such an end to the morning was never in doubt. Whether unable or unwilling to protect their communities from cuts, it was hard to resist the conclusion that any hope that a fightback can come from local councils is undermined by the stark realisation of just how powerless they really are.

Richard Goulding

More: Manchester, News


  1. All interesting stuff here!How dare the Liberal Democrats use campaign material for the baths. Last week, one of them told me he had not heard of the grassroots campaign. Pathetic, the lot of them.

    Comment by Sue McPherson on March 10, 2011 at 3:47 pm
  2. The misunderstanding that the council will decide to build a replacement for the Levenshulme baths keeps circulating and being re-aired here and elsewhere, but there is no such promise.
    What it says and what is done at present is an evaluation of options and new build is one of them but not necesarily the outcome.
    Please stick to reality as the last thing we need is false hope or even worse people walking away from the process and giving the politicians room to shut after all…..

    Comment by Izzy Mansour on March 10, 2011 at 9:24 pm
  3. @Izzy no one will walk away. Levy won’t be quiet!

    Comment by Sue McPherson on March 11, 2011 at 2:07 am
  4. ok so whats wrong with a revamp of the old Levy baths its a lovely building! why destroy more of Manchesters heritage? It means acquiring more land then (cost to the council) just look at all the new shiny office blocks lying empty in town, results in high rents/admission fees and just get passed onto the poor consumer in the end! US! New not always best! What happens after the 2yr reprieve then for the baths? Its a shame they couldnt save Miles Platting pool/library, a much poorer area and much needed community resources.

    Comment by Joanne Harworth on March 11, 2011 at 1:07 pm
  5. Izzy – obviously there is no legal requirement on the council to commit to keep the baths open. They have given the baths a reprieve for two years, after which period they have promised to either renovate the existing premises or build a new one – based on a report they have commissioned. The council have made a promise which is a political commitment. They will be held to account democratically and I am sure that the campaigners will not forget about this in two years time. Nobody is saying that the Council’s promise is anything else than that – so why do you keep banging on about it?

    Comment by Withingtonian on March 24, 2011 at 3:00 pm
  6. The Lib Dems in Levenshulme have form when it comes to lying about their involvement in local campaigns. My neighbour and I organised a local campaign to stop a ridiculous development of a derelict property next door…spent weekends leafleting, got petitions organised etc. Very successful, huge turnout at a meeting at my house…the LIb Dems came when they heard there was a meeting as it was just before the local elections, having completely ignored our calls (Cllr Commons and Whitmore) up to this..and spent the time at the meeting arguing amongst themselves!!No help was given but when we eventually won our battle (thanks to a great planning officer and our local (labour) MP they rushed out a leaflet claiming they had secured this victory!! I hold them in UTTER contempt

    Comment by Claire Walsh on April 5, 2011 at 10:57 pm
  7. […] Baths, the outsourcing of Sure Start and the full closure of youth services. Reading through the budget the council passed in March and associated documents, it becomes clear that the main strategy being […]

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