A furious political row has erupted over who is to blame for the decimation of public services in Kirklees.
Kirklees Council must slash £47 million off its budget by February or face declaring itself effectively bankrupt, handing the town hall keys to the Government.
A move to end free car parking in smaller towns and villages and impose increased charges in Huddersfield and Dewsbury caused Dewsbury Tory MP Mark Eastwood to raise the issue with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.
In his reply, Mr Sunak branded Kirklees Council “not fit for purpose” and said local residents “deserve better.”
Labour-run Kirklees Council is currently cutting back public services and has previously warned that around 250 council workers could lose their jobs.
There is growing anger from all sections of the community with ordinary members of the public bravely standing up to speak at every Cabinet meeting or full council where “heartbreaking decisions” are being made.
The council wants to close dementia care homes in Newsome and Heckmondwike; axe at least three leisure centres in Slaithwaite, Dewsbury and Batley; mothball Cleckheaton Town Hall; sell off the historic Batley Library building and former Red House Museum in Gomersal; and hand over, or sell off, the HUDAWI Centre in Huddersfield and the DRAM Centre in Dalton, both of which are at the heart of the most deprived communities.
Several local councils have already issued a Section 114 Notice. A council’s chief financial officer has a statutory duty to issue such a notice if they believe the council can’t balance its books. Whitehall officials would then take over council finances.
At Wednesday night’s full council meeting there were more emotional pleas to councillors to “find another way.”
Sarah Blagborough, whose mother Janet has early onset dementia and has found a settled new home at under-threat Castle Grange in Newsome, chocked back the tears as she told of her family’s heartbreak.
The family struggled to find a place for former hairdresser Janet who had developed challenging behaviour because of her condition.
Some homes wouldn’t accept Janet leaving Sarah to scream: “She is not a monster. She is my mum!”
Sarah said the family was “blown away” by the welcome and care from staff at Castle Grange. Her mum was settled and even smiling again.
All that would be put at risk if Janet has to move. “I am pleading with you. Find another way,” Sarah begged councillors.
Sarah received a standing ovation from councillors. In response, Clr Jackie Ramsey, Cabinet member for health and social care, said she was “genuinely sorry” for what was happening but added: “I feel it’s important that I have to re-state some of the drivers that are pushing us to propose such a difficult decision.
“The primary reason is the chronic under-funding of local authorities by the Tory-led government over 13 years. Made worse by the complete failure of the Government to level up.
“Our funding per person is £69 each per year less than the national average (according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies). That’s a huge sum when you consider there’s around 440,000 people in Kirklees.
“Just think what we could do if we had that funding. But we don’t. And our appeals to Government to fund us fairly have fallen on deaf ears.”
The meeting also heard from Tim Gilligan, of Kirklees Unison, who claimed the council’s Children’s Services were facing severe cuts.
“The council should rethink its cuts plans before it’s too late,” he said. “Kirklees residents deserve better.”
Clr Graham Turner, Cabinet member for regeneration and finance, said: “I remain convinced that the issuing of a Section 114 would be disastrous for our residents and would result in harsher, deeper cuts than we are proposing.
“We can deliver a budget next March and we will do so without the help of Whitehall. Don’t forget all the issues we have heard stem from 13 years of Tory government which has underfunded local government. The fault lies at No10 and No11 Downing Street, not here.
“The PM said today that Kirklees is not fit for purpose. That’s a bit rich coming from the PM. I say it’s this Government that’s not fit for purpose. It’s time they went.
“This country deserves better than this inept out-of-ideas government so bereft of ideas and talent they brought Dodgy Dave back!”
Responding to Mr Sunak’s comments, council leader Clr Cathy Scott said local government generally faced a £4 billion black hole in their finances.
She added: “What a shame that Dewsbury’s Tory MP doesn’t use his privileged position in Parliament to do something useful for people in our area who desperately need help with the cost-of-living crisis and want the Government to fund our public services properly.”