Manchester's 'confidence can beat cuts' says leader

By Michelle Murphy
BBC News

  • Published
Sir Richard Leese
Image caption,
Sir Richard claims the government is removed from the people affected by cuts

Manchester's "self-confidence" built up over the past 15 years is what will see it through the "worst cuts in living memory", the council leader claims.

Sir Richard Leese said the £109m cuts, rising to £170m in 2013, were harsher than those brought under rate-capping or poll tax in the 1980s and 1990s.

But he said investment in recent years had given Manchester an economic and social robustness.

This strength, he said, meant the cuts were just short of a "total disaster".

"If this had happened 15 years ago it would have been a complete total disaster," said Sir Richard.

"We are in a better place to cope with this now. At the end of the 1980s recession, this was a city that had lost its self-confidence, but in the intervening years Manchester's got that self-confidence back and it's essential to our success and we're not going to lose it now."

The biennial Manchester International Festival, scheduled to take place in June, is key to maintaining the city's self-belief and boosting the region's economy, Sir Richard said.

The event, which will feature work by Victoria Wood and a new play starring Willem Dafoe, is not among those being axed as it brings millions of pounds into the region.

Sir Richard, who leads the Labour-controlled authority, said: "We don't just do it because we like arts and culture, we do it to grow the economy.

"After two Manchester international festivals it was already being talked about in international terms and it's one of the reasons why the New York Times says people should be coming to Manchester."

'Lack of care'

Manchester City Council is closing leisure centres, libraries and public toilets and shedding 2,000 jobs or 17% of its workforce to make £110m of savings in the coming year, rising to £170m cuts the year after.

Sir Richard said he was particularly angry about the government's decision to impose a 35% cut in its supporting people grant, which helps house vulnerable adults.

"For the government it's just figures on a piece of paper, but for me that's about 1,000 people's lives and affected.

"It's shocking and it does make me very, very angry. It's a lack of care because they're removed from the people this is having an impact on," said Sir Richard.

But a Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said that the importance of the Supporting People programme in helping vulnerable people "was clearly recognised in the government's Spending Review".

"Nationally for every pound of Supporting People funding provided last year, 99 pence will be provided this year. The government has also maintained the level of Homelessness Grant, and will invest £400m over the next four years.

"Funding for Supporting People had been unringfenced since April 2009," he said.

"This means it is for each authority to assess the needs in their area and allocate funding for Supporting People - so there is no excuse for councils to be targeting any disproportionate spending reductions on programmes that support the most vulnerable people in their communities."

Complex caseloads

Sir Richard defended the council against accusations by the local government minister Grant Shapps, who said that Manchester was "playing politics with people lives" by imposing 25% cuts when government figures required it to save 17%.

He had said the cuts were "a cynical move by a Labour council".

The council leader said that increases in pension costs, National Insurance, waste levies and carbon reduction tax added to loss of central grants and cost increases in delivering services provided the additional 8%.

One area where Sir Richard admits to making a deliberate spending decision is in choosing to recruit more children's social workers.

The decision was made after an Ofsted report into safeguarding and looked after children in November revealed that Manchester social workers had large and complex case loads.

"They did a very good job with them, but it was clear we needed to try and reduce those case-loads.

"We needed to ensure that we can meet our obligations to those children because the risk is that somewhere down the line we could have a serious abuse case or the death of a child in what would be preventable circumstances."

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