Kirklees Council’s new leader Cathy Scott has warned that cuts to save £47.8 million to stave off bankruptcy will be “painful.”
The council has a plan – details are yet to be made public – but measures already being implemented will see up to 750 staff being made redundant, budgets slashed and charges and fees for council services raised by at least the rate of inflation.
Clr Scott hailed a “fresh start” for Kirklees but at last week’s full council meeting there were two deputations which showed the impact the uncertainty is already having on the council’s workforce and the small business community.
The meeting heard from small business owner Amelia Franks, who runs Countryside Canines, a home-based dog boarding business.
Kirklees Council has announced an increase of almost 500% for animal licensing fees which Amelia said would put small operators out of business.
Cowlersley-based Amelia said the increase of 482% from £482 for a three-year licence to £1,872 was neither fair nor reasonable.
She added: “Whilst we understand the need for a price increase the planned increase is so drastic that it’s going to become an overhead that’s just not feasible for many small businesses.”
Amelia said neighbouring councils were “significantly cheaper.” Leeds charged £403, Calderdale £409 and Wakefield £341. “How is that fair?” she asked.
Other councils also offer a sliding scale of fees depending on how many dogs are cared for.
Amelia added: “I board one dog at a time so it’s a very unique service but my licence is the same as a kennel that might have 20-plus dogs at any one time that operates 365 days a year.
“Ultimately our livelihood is going to be ruined because we cannot afford these fees. Not only is it concerning that our businesses are at risk but, as a predominantly female industry, we feel that female business owners are facing another unintentional disadvantage in society.
“I have asked if other industries which are predominately male-led have seen similar price increases within Kirklees but I’ve yet to receive a response.”
Amelia, who has collected a 2,000-signature petition against the charges, said 10 out of 12 businesses she had spoken to would have to stop boarding and would not be renewing their licences.
Meanwhile, Mick Donoghue, branch secretary of Kirklees UNISON, which represents around 4,500 council workers, told the meeting that staff and the public were anxious over the council’s plans to deal with the crisis.
He said: “The council’s response to the funding crisis has been to issue a HR1 notice which will see 250 redundancies. This is only the first phase of up to 750 redundancies across the council.
“This is in addition to proposed service cuts that we know about in partner organisations such as Kirklees Active Leisure, as well as those that we anticipate will result from the council’s precarious financial position.
“No details have yet been provided to the trade unions as to which services or posts will be directly affected but the loss of 750 jobs will inevitably hurt those who rely on council services the most.”
Referring to the £250 million Huddersfield Blueprint, which includes the Cultural Heart and the restoration of the George Hotel, Mr Donoghue said: “Questions are understandably being asked about the wisdom of continuing capital works projects when services are facing cuts or closure.
“Improvements to the public realm will be of little benefit to those who rely on essential services if those services are cut.”
At the meeting Liberal Democrat leader Clr John Lawson (Cleckheaton) said that while charges, cuts and closures would “never be popular” he felt more details of the council’s plans should be made public.
He said: “Cabinet have said they have high confidence that the plans they have to make further savings will produce a balanced budget at the year end and we have no real choice but to take them at their word.
“I think it’s probably overdue that the details of some of these plans came into public view.”
Union protesters outside Huddersfield Town Hall. Pic by: GORDON PARKS
At the same meeting Clr Cathy Scott (Lab, Dewsbury East) was elected council leader, three weeks after stepping up from deputy leader following the resignation of Clr Shabir Pandor (Lab, Batley West).
She said: “It’s such a privilege to represent Kirklees. I love this place and I’m ambitious for our people and communities.
“We have some major challenges ahead of us but I’ve got the right team around me to do the very best for everyone who lives and works here.
“All our vital services, from supporting children to social care, rely on stable funding. Our priority has to be to deliver that stability and set a balanced budget next year.
“At the same time, we need to continue to support local people through this cost-of-living crisis and build hope for the future by improving the local economy.
“We’ve got plans in place to achieve all of that and it’s now up to us to deliver it. None of this will be easy but I’m ready for the challenge. This is a fresh start for Kirklees.”