The spending cuts planned for Oldham council - and how it could affect YOU

Reporter: Charlotte Hall, Local Democracy Reporter
Date published: 09 February 2024

Councils across the UK are facing difficult decisions about their budgets.

Local Authorities are struggling to find ways to cut millions from their spending plans without making council services suffer.

Oldham council is no different.

At a special budget scrutiny board meeting, councillors dug deep to find ways to slice millions from its spending in the next two years to help fill a £30m budget gap.

But with no more fat to trim, some of these cuts go to the bone. 

“The cuts we’re making now are going to impact members of the public, there’s no doubt about that,” Coun Barbara Brownridge said at the meeting.

“But we’re trying to minimise that impact as best we can by changing how things are done.”

The reason for the budget gap is due to a number of ‘unforeseen pressures’ on council spending, according to a Revenue Report for 2024-25.

These include the rising cost of delivering services - including a £10m rise in pay across departments to keep up with national inflation rates. 

They also reflect the growing need for temporary accommodation for the homeless in the face of Oldham’s housing crisis and the soaring cost and demand for social services. 

The council are still waiting to hear how a £500m boost announced by the government to tide over councils creaking under the heavy demand for social and children’s care will be shared out. 

Coun Abdul Jabbar, cabinet member for finance, said: “Though there will be some new money coming in, the position remains that we are in a very difficult situation to continue to provide key services in Oldham for our residents.” 

In the meantime, councillors have put forward 34 proposals, which would amount to savings of £11m if they are all approved.

The proposals are set to go into consultation first, meaning residents can have their say before a final decision is made. 

Here are some of the key changes proposed by the Council. 

‘Doing more for less money with less staff’
The proposals involve 97 full time job cuts across the council, including 33 in environmental services, 20 in financial support and 12 in children’s services.

Three senior leadership positions are also on the line.  

A large proportion of these positions are already vacant or currently staffed by agencies, which cost up to three times more than staff employed directly by the council.

But the proposed cuts would mean a significant change in how services are delivered behind the scenes. 

Council leader Arooj Shah said: “What we’re trying to do is have a flatter structure, which means that officers will probably have to look after more services. 

“It’s about doing more for less money with less staff.

"The reality of it is not ideal but we’ve just got no choice.”  

Council tax and council rent to rise 
Living costs are set to rise in Oldham.

The local authority has confirmed that council tax will go up by the full five percent, with two pc ringfenced for social care. 

Coun Shah previously told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that her ‘hands are tied’ on council tax.

She said the government portions out the finances for council with the assumption that they’ll be raising the tax.

If they don’t, it would leave them with an even greater hole to fill. 

Council rents are also due to increase by 7.7 pc from April, in line with government guidance.

This amounts to an extra £7.54 a week for most people. 

The council claims this will be covered by the rise in benefits payments, which will go up by 6.7 pc this year to 

For business owners, business rates are also due to rise by two pc and non-domestic rents will see hikes depending on their individual contracts. 

Oldham Council Leader Arooj Shah

Slashing spending on health and social care 
With a £2.8m cut to health and social care spending, the department would be one of the hardest hit this year if all the proposals go ahead. 

Certain services delivered by firms such as care providers MioCare and rehabilitation supporters ORCAT could see a direct hit of £1.3m.

This could affect elderly or disabled people and those recovering from illness. 

The proposal said: “Ceasing the funding is likely to result in the reduction of these services in Oldham, with an impact to the ability for providing support for people discharged from hospital in the community.” 

Other proposals would see funding slashed for public health campaigns and for sexual health schemes.

There could be a £10k cut to emergency contraception supplies and formula one milk for mothers with HIV. 

This would be in line with demand, the council notes, and would not be leaving women without options.

“If demand rises above what we’ve set out, we will find the money,” said Coun Brownridge. 

In general, these cuts will see the council relying more heavily on third-party services like charities for care and health support. 

Reducing the number of social work teams
Spending on children and young people could see a £3.3m cut, with 20 social workers removed from teams over the next two years. 

This follows a big boost in the number of social work teams last year. A £14.8m investment brought in eight new teams to reduce caseloads on individual social workers. 

The report warns that the cuts could leave some experienced case workers responsible for 30 kids at a time, which it described as ‘unsustainable’. 

But the council argued that the cuts will come alongside other initiatives to reform the children’s care service in Oldham, including establishing three council-owned children’s homes. 

Gerard Jones, Managing Director Children and Young People, said “We believe it’s safely achievable in the light of all the other work we’re doing to improve outreach into our communities, with family hubs and community-based work.” 

How schools would be affected by the proposed cuts  
Schools and skill centres could lose out on more than half a million pounds.

The new budget would see a gradual reduction in transport provisions for kids with SEND over the age of 16. 

Schools would also gain the power to fine parents twice a year for taking their children out of school during term-time. Currently, they can only hand out one fine each school year. 

In 2022-2023, Oldham Borough Council handed out 4,993 penalties to guardians for taking their kids out for trips.

At £60-£120 each, they brought in more than £300k. 

But coun Mohon Ali, leader on education and skills, claimed the idea was mostly to address the soaring levels of truancy in Oldham’s schools, rather than a source of income.  

The council is also planning to roll back its school catering service, which it claims is being outstripped by private competition, with most academies and many non-academies already turning to alternatives. 

This would not be immediate and would leave no schools without lunches in the interim, Coun Shah assured. 

Other significant proposed changes 
Spending on neighbourhoods could drop by £1.3m, largely by cutting a total of 35 vacant pr agency staff posts for environmental services like park maintenance and highway maintenance. 

There could be £2.5m cut in Finance services, largely through reductions in staff and IT supply.

This will also see the exceptional hardship fund reduced in line with last year’s demand, as not all of the hardship fund was claimed last year. 

Residents are invited to have their say
Oldham residents are invited to have their say on the council’s budget decisions and flag the priorities they think councillors should be investing more into.

But the budget consultation, which started on the January 15, ends at midnight today (February 9). 

Locals can access the online survey here

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