By Charlotte Green – Local Democracy Reporter
COUNCIL bosses are consulting on making millions of pounds of cuts – including axing funding for charities and the opening hours of Oldham Library – as they face a £30m funding shortfall.
Oldham Council has launched a public consultation on a series of proposals that are aiming to save £8m from the 2021/22 budget.
However bosses warn they could have to find a further £22m to plug a funding gap if the finalised government grant notification for next year doesn’t deliver.
This means they may have to find millions more in savings, or use last resort one off measures, such as the use of dwindling reserves to meet the difference.
The opening times for Gallery Oldham could be reduced to five days a week under the consultation proposals, to save £22k on staffing and running costs.
And an annual contribution by the local authority to Mahdlo Youth Zone would be slashed by half, from £400k to £200k over two years.
The charity currently provides activities and experiences for young people across Oldham and the impact of the funding cut could mean that they can deliver less in the borough.
The budget for Keyring – a service that supports people who struggle to live independently – is also proposed to be cut by £50k next year, and by £20k in 2022/23.
However officers acknowledge that this could mean the services supports fewer people and could lead to ‘higher demand on other council or health services’.
Grassroots Day Care Service in Failsworth, which provides daily social activities including woodwork, arts and crafts and gardening to adults to disabilities would be closed to save £70k.
And it is planned to cease funding for the Age UK men in sheds project which aims to reduce isolation and improve wellbeing in men aged over 55, and currently has facilities in Greenfield and Failsworth.
The council intends to withdraw its funding of more than £51k next year.
The Access Oldham Contact Centre, which is based out of the Civic Centre, is proposed to close permanently with people offered advice over the phone, online or at bookable face-to-face meetings at locations such as libraries and well-being centres. This would save £165k over two years.
As part of the proposals, which are being consulted on until February, the biggest saving would be found from services which provide support to adults.
This would save £1.5m next year, and a further £1m in 2022/23.
Bosses say that currently, more than 1,000 adults receive a direct payment that helps with their care needs at a cost of around £13m.
It is proposed to now meet those needs in ‘different ways’, which could include a greater reliance on voluntary and community support, and technology such as alarm systems for people who previously may have needed sleep-in support.
A review of how the council provides direct payments, which are paid on a four weekly basis to people who need care to pay for their own support, would also be undertaken.
The next biggest saving would be found from reducing the costs around finding external places for children in care.
This would save £500k in the next financial year, and the same amount again in 2022/23.
Chiefs say the council currently spends more than £11m a year funding places for youngsters in children’s homes that aren’t owned by the council or through independent fostering agencies.
The town hall intends to use fewer private children’s homes by doing more to prevent children needing to come into care, doing more to find permanent placements through adoption and better supporting foster carers.
Reducing the cost of placements for children with special educational needs and disability (SEND) will save a total of £2.1m over three years according to officers, with £400k less spent next year.
The town hall is planning to increase the number of placements for children with SEND within Oldham, which should reduce the need for costly out-of-borough placements.
Money spent on services for young people in the form of the ‘Kerching’ budget which is given to Oldham youth council to spend on activities for young people would also be cut by £37k.
A review of the QEST team, which provides support to young people with special educational needs and disabilities in schools would save £191,970 next year.
However it would involve a restructure which would reduce the overall number of staff, and focus on a core offer to schools which may mean that some schools have to find other providers for additional services.
Plans to ‘reshape’ the early help service which provides support to families who face challenges with issues such as parenting, finances, education, health or houses would save £40k.
The service would be reorganised to work alongside services in children’s centre and Right Start health visitors based in the borough’s districts.
Other savings proposals include a reduction in the budget for a traineeship placements under the Get Oldham Working Programme by £65k.
Reducing staffing in the council’s district teams would save £136k, while it is proposed to cut the amount of money included in each councillor’s members’ budget from £6k, to £5k a year – saving £60k in total.
Further savings would be made from sport development – £13k – and from changing the delivery model around school swimming to save £11k.
Funding to sheltered housing support, through on-site wardens or alarm systems for older people, would be cut by the council to save £100k, with the support to be provided through housing providers in future.
A new service for people who are struggling with their health, housing, homelessness, poverty, and substance misuse among other issues would be set up, which would cost £200k less to run than the existing adult social care prevention and early intervention service.
Carers personal budgets are also in the firing line, with the threshold at which people qualify for a budget increased, and the amounts reduced to save £100k.
A quarter of a million pounds is proposed to be saved by offering fewer residents adult social care brokerage to help them administer their payments.
And £788k could be saved over two years from reviewing the support offered to adults with learning disabilities and autism, including increasing the number of people that can be housed locally without the needs for more expensive placements out of the borough.
A ‘small number’ of job losses as part of a restructure of the neighbourhood enforcement team would save £100k.
Restructuring the registars service to provide more ‘customer facing personnel’ – which would see the register office opening times change – would save £17k next year.
Councillor Abdul Jabbar, deputy leader and cabinet member for finance, said: “Oldham council’s budget has been significantly impacted by the austerity agenda, with budget reductions of over £200m having to be implemented over the last decade.
“Unfortunately, due to the impact of the coronavirus and an increased demand for services, we are again in a position where we are having to further reduce our spending.
“In total we are now aiming to find £30m in budget reductions to address the financial challenges the council is facing.
“The proposals that have been put forward reflect the financial challenge we find ourselves in, but they do not dampen our overall ambition for Oldham.”
He added: “We have worked hard to put forward a range of proposals which we hope will have the least possible impact on our residents and businesses, bearing in mind the financial pressures we are under.”
Other measures to balance the budget will be considered once Government funding intentions are known and the budget reduction requirement has been finalised.