Cash-strapped West Yorkshire councils get £51m lifeline from unspent transport cash

Leeds Town Hall. Credit: PA

Five West Yorkshire councils have been thrown a £51million financial lifeline as they battle a budget crisis.

The one-off payment will be shared between councils in Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield, Kirklees, and Calderdale.

The money is being returned to the authorities by the West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) from unspent funding for transport projects.

It will be divided between them according to population size.

Leeds, which has a population of 812,000, will get £17.6m; Bradford will receive £11.8m; Kirklees will get £9.4m; Wakefield £7.68m; and Calderdale £4.49m.

WYCA said it can refund the money as the cost of its current programme of projects has been met by government funding of £30m per year.

West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin said councils were facing "extreme financial pressure."

Kirklees Council faces a £47m black hole in its budget this financial year. It has frozen all essential spending and announced a range of cuts including shutting leisure centres and dementia care homes.

In Bradford recent budget estimates suggest the council is predicted to overspend this year by around £13m.

Leeds City Council is already £34m over the budget it set for the current financial year back in the spring, with 750 jobs facing the axe over the next 18 months to help bridge the funding gap.

Wakefield Council announced last week that it would have to make “difficult decisions” to plug a £35.6m funding gap in the next financial year.

The funding gap in Wakefield over the five-year period to 2028/2029 has been put at £86m.

In the summer, Calderdale councillors were told the authority was projected to overspend its budget by around £5m unless action was taken, with officers instructed to look for savings.

At a WYCA meeting with council leaders Ms Brabin said councils across West Yorkshire were "facing the perfect storm of government austerity cuts and high inflation".

Angela Taylor, director of finance, said: "We plan to refund local authorities in this time of extreme financial pressure. It is a real issue you councils are dealing with as we speak."

Cllr Susan Hinchcliffe, Leader of Bradford Council, said: "One of the benefits of working closely in partnership with the Combined Authority is that we're able to ensure funding is in the right place at the right time to be of best use.

"While this return of funding is appreciated, it in no way makes up for the £350m in funding for Bradford that has been cut by central government.

"Many local authorities nationally are facing significant financial challenges, government needs to change its approach to ensure councils can continue to meet increasing demand for services amid high inflation and energy costs."