Article published: Wednesday, February 9th 2011
Public services across the board from nurseries and youth centres to libraries and leisure centres are to be savagely cut as Manchester City Council deals with a 25 per cent reduction to its budget. The move will see a massive shift of service provision to the voluntary sector, in whose absence it seems services will be privatised or dissolved. Unions have reacted with consternation.
Manchester City Council yesterday released details of which services will be hit following January’s announcement that 2,000 jobs would be shed to deal with the £109m cuts required in the coming financial year. The budget proposal reveals how areas of the highest source of expenditure, adult care and children’s services, will feel the blunt blow of the axe most severely.
While some services and centres are to be abolished outright, others will be privatised or put open to outsourcing. Meanwhile the Council will ask voluntary and community organisations to provide former core services.
The full extent of the cuts were revealed at a summit meeting held by the council on Wednesday morning. They include:
- The full closure of five libraries, with the remaining 21 to no longer open on Fridays or Sundays
- Bin collection going from every week to fortnightly
- The closure of four leisure centres
- Overnight street cleaning to end
- Highways work scaled back to a bare minimum
- The closure of all but one public toilet, with the remaining one in the city centre to charge users
- Effective privatisation of SureStart centres
- Over 40 per cent of job losses at the Council to be ‘managerial’ posts
Brunt of the blow
The areas which look set to carry the weight include Adult Services, which is to lose more than a fifth of its total budget. In the council’s budget briefing it is noted that the department “will have to stop providing some things, charge more for others or ask partners or community groups to provide instead”. This will be achieved by stricter eligibility criteria for access to services and a greater “reliance on partner agencies and voluntary groups.”
Children’s Services, another area of relatively large expenditure in the council’s budget, is also set to lose out. The Council insists that “safeguarding of vulnerable Manchester children remains paramount” and to this end there will be no frontline staff reductions in social workers.
However in order to reach a budget reduction of £45m, or 26 per cent of the department’s total budget, the Council is to withdraw as the provider of youth centres with a mere £1.5m allocated for ‘youth activity’. Low-income families will be affected as the the council relinquishes control of all 36 SureStart nurseries, which provide childcare and parental advice in deprived areas, and is now looking for voluntary and private organisations as well as schools to take over their running. Should they not be found then nurseries and youth centres will close.
And the withdrawal of subsidies for childcare mean that costs will rise by 25 per cent, from £126 to £160 per week, adding to woes of those with low incomes struggling to provide for families.
Savings of the £31m are to be found in the Neighbourhood and Communities Directorate through the closure of all but one public toilet and the closure of Levenshulme and Miles Platting swimming pools. In the same vein highway maintenance is to be run at a minimum, despite the poor state of road surfaces, in particular across the city centre.
The council couched the announcement in defensive tones, with Leader Sir Richard Leese commenting in his blog that “[l]ike me, people will be shocked and angered by what we are having to do to balance the budget but we have been put in a dreadful position where the only choices are as to what cuts we make.”
Unions reacted with dismay to the announcement.
In a statement to the press, Branch Secretary of UNISON, the largest trade union at the Council, Pat McDonagh said: “The cuts are a direct result of the ConDem [government] attack on our City, and they will impact massively on our members and the communities we serve. The scale and spread of the reductions is shocking.”
UNITE trade union spokesperson Keith Hutson told MULE: “It is totally devastating. The effect will be very heavy on Manchester residents. This isn’t about efficiency savings; it is pure cuts. There will be an awful lot less in terms of services from Manchester City Council – maybe up to half as little next year.
“While we agree that it is not of the Council’s making – it has been inflicted on them by the government – we will always endeavour to put our members and public services first.”
He went on to question the number of 2,000 redundancies given by the Council. “We query [that] figure as many people [in the Council] are employed part-time on low salaries. [The Council] bases the figure on the assumption of full-time workers at the higher end of the earnings scale we believe it could possibly be a lot higher, around three to four thousand.”
The Council is now asking the public for their views through a two week consultation period before definitive budget decisions are made on March 9.
If you work in one of the sectors or use the services hit by these cuts, let us know how you, your organisation or its users are going to be affected. Email editor[at]manchestermule.com.
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