Southampton City Council has today published proposals to reduce the council’s budget by £833,000 in the current financial year.
These savings would increase to nearly £2 million in the next financial year (2013/14).
The plans include a proposal not to reopen Oaklands Swimming Pool, which has been closed for some weeks because of major maintenance problems.
The proposals also include plans to fund a number of key initiatives of the council’s new Labour administration. Among these are additional funding for:
• the city centre’s taxi marshal scheme;
• a pre-apprenticeship programme to prepare youngsters who want to apply for apprenticeships;
• a music-based Southampton festival;
• a series of Crime Reduction and Environment Days in neighbourhoods affected by anti-social behaviour, littering and criminal damage;
• a Dragon’s Den-style scheme that will allow small businesses to pitch for support in finding business premises.
These spending proposals total £240,000 of one-off funding and will be paid for using part of a significant VAT refund that the council has been awarded by HM Revenue and Customs.
The proposals will be discussed by the council’s Cabinet next Tuesday (10 July). A decision will then be taken by full council on 11 July whether to proceed with consultation on savings plans that impact on staff and the public.
Announcing the budget plans, Councillor Simon Letts, Cabinet Member for Resources, said: “We inherited a very difficult budget position and need to take some very hard decisions in the coming months. Today’s proposals start that process and allow us to make some savings in the current financial year. These will also help reduce the savings required for next year’s budget.
“We are committed to working with our staff in this challenging context and will pilot a new redeployment model that aims to keep people in work, retraining where possible and seeking to avoid major redundancy costs.
“As difficult as things are, it is vital that we also ensure we are spending appropriately on the important things. By allocating some modest amounts on really important issues like community safety and support for small businesses and job-seekers we are confident we can start to make a big difference in areas that matter to Southampton residents.”
Oaklands Swimming Pool, situated on the soon-to-be-closed site of Oasis Lordshill Academy, has been closed for four weeks due to faulty pipe work. Investigations into an earlier leak in the learner pool showed that the pool was unsafe and would require up to £500,000 in urgent repairs alone.
Other problems with the pool, which costs around £250,000 a year to run, include roof materials regularly falling into the pool and an ageing plant room.
More than 33 full time and part time staff are employed at the pool. In the short term, staff are being redeployed into other work and it is hoped that redundancies can be avoided by absorbing them into other posts within the council. Staff and unions will be fully consulted on the changes and a public consultation will also be conducted. A final decision is due to be made in September.
Cllr Warwick Payne, Cabinet Member for Leisure said: “As a former Oaklands Community School pupil, who swam his first mile in this pool, it gives me absolutely no pleasure at all to propose its closure. This is an indication of just how strained the council’s budget is at the moment.
“It is regrettable that we have had to take this decision, but in light of the £30 million savings we have to make this year, it is in the best interests of the city as a whole to close Oaklands. The costs of repairing and maintaining the pool are more than we can afford in the current climate. The closing of the school also means that we need to consider the future use of the site as a whole.
“As a council, we are not going to duck the hard choices – people will be disappointed that their local pool is closing, but there is excellent swimming provision elsewhere in the city. We will work with partners to see what deals we might be able to offer Oaklands customers at other pools.”
Other savings proposed include a range of efficiency changes as well as the removal of one vacant media officer post and ending the publication of the council’s City View resident magazine in the next financial year.
The council’s budget papers show that today’s savings proposals, when added to previously agreed reductions, reduce the budget gap in 2013/14 from about £30 million to about £25 million. Councillors and council officers are currently developing more budget proposals in order to close this gap by the time next year’s budget is agreed in February.”