The true cost of savage cuts to Blackpool Council’s budget is £400m over the past six years, the town’s finance boss has revealed.
While year-on-year-cuts since 2011/12 total £118m, the roll-over effect is closer to £400m as each new annual saving comes on top of previous cumulative cuts.
Steve Thompson, director of resources at Blackpool Council, also told the scrutiny committee for tourism, economy and resources there were fewer staff working for the council now than 16 years ago despite the increased responsibilities, such as public health, which the council had been given.
Around 300 jobs are set to be lost as part of £25m of savings this year.
Unions and business leaders were invited to quiz town hall chiefs about the budget being proposed ahead of it going before full council later this month.
They heard there was still pressure on spending from the cost of looking after troubled children, while the timescale for tourism assets including the Tower and Winter Gardens to break even had been pushed back to 2021.
So now we are in this desperate state, what are we going to do?Suzanne Johnson,
Meanwhile, less than £1m would be spent on incremental pay increases for staff.
Mr Thompson told the meeting: “It has been one of the most difficult budgets in our living memories or careers in terms of continuing severity over the last five years.”
Business leaders called on the council to work more in partnership with private enterprise to help ease the burden of the cuts.
Paul Foster, of the Federation of Small Business (FSB), said: “With the pressure budgets are coming under, there is an increasing need to empower communities to run things themselves.
“You need to help the business community run festivals, or whatever there might be, and support them as much as possible and in the past that has not always been our experience.”
Suzanne Johnson, also representing the FSB, said: “I would expect someone struggling with staff and money to snap our hands off. We have tried to work with the council but have had nothing.
“So now we are in this desperate state, what are we going to do?”
Council chief executive Neil Jack said the authority faced many challenges due to issues such as transience and deprivation, but there was new investment coming into the town, including a new Premier Inn earmarked for the former Yates’s site in Talbot Square.
He said: “We need to keep working with our business community.
“It has to be a joint effort and we have not been as good as we should have been at that and we need to improve it.”
Among the new initiatives in the budget is the creation of a commercial development team to optimise income from the council’s land and properties which it is hoped will eventually bring in £4m a year.
A council tax rise of 3.9 per cent is being proposed.
Consultation from the meeting will now go to the executive for consideration before the budget meeting on February 25.
Children’s services is currently overspending by £2.7m largely due to the impact of children in care.
Although the total has reached a plateau of around 440, down from 490 in 2013, youngsters with complex needs can cost more than £5,000 a week to care for.
Delyth Curtis, director of people, said: “Last week we had nine children coming into care, and this week we had five.
“It is really difficult to pre-empt because we have large families coming into Blackpool that we can’t plan for and we have to take children into care should the need arise.”
Strategic leisure assets, which includes the Tower and Winter Gardens, are expected to overspend by £1.3m. The date for them to break even has been pushed back to 2021 from 2017.
But chief executive Neil Jack said: “These assets had been under-invested in by their previous owners and we have to take a long term view.
“They all make profits but we have to invest more back into them and they make a significant contribution to the tourism economy.”
Pay rise proposal
It is proposed to offer a one per cent pay increase to all staff, as well as introduce the living wage which will increase pay for some on the lowest bands by around £900.
The payment of annual increments will continue which will cost £965,000.
As part of savings, it is proposed to continue the voluntary scheme of five days unpaid leave.