While we all come to terms with the massive spending cuts and benefits freeze announced in the emergency Budget, it’s easy to forget the first round of spending cuts – worth £6.2bn – revealed by the government back in May.
But these initial cuts are slowly starting to bite. Reductions in local government funding amounting to £1.166bn will hit poor areas hardest – and among the councils facing the maximum two percent budget cut is Burnley, which has relatively high unemployment.
Reductions in area based grants – specifically targeted grants such as the Working Neighbourhoods Fund – are forcing Burnley to make cutbacks, and last night a report was presented to the council executive setting out where the axe will fall.
Burnley Borough Council must cut just over half a million pounds from its Working Neighbourhoods Fund, Prevent and Cohesion spending. In addition to £303,000 in cuts to its area based grants, the government has also pulled £200,000 of expected funding that the council had already committed to key regeneration schemes – meaning the savings have to be found elsewhere.
Funding for neighbourhood policing support – essentially, police community support officers – will fall by 20 percent, while community safety funding – which includes work to tackle domestic violence – is being cut by 10 percent. Two initiatives to tackle anti-social behaviour – NEAT and Clean Team – are taking a 7.6 per cent hit.
Among the specific projects taking a hit is the Youth Bus. The project was developed after a big rise in youth criminal damage and anti-social behaviour in parts of Burnley; consultation with local young people revealed a glaring absence of youth facilities and widespread boredom and disaffection.
The Youth Bus was the response. Under this scheme, a double-decker bus was converted into a social space and mini-internet café for local teenagers, touring different parts of the town.
The results were immediate – the first six months of operation saw a fall of more than 700 damage and anti-social behaviour incidents, including a 20.5 percent reduction in criminal damage.
During the course of these six months, the bus operated in one area, Burnleywood, for a 10-week period – during which damage fell by 39 percent and anti-social behaviour by 18 percent.
The project has proved popular, but the central government funding cut has driven the council to cut its funding by 10 percent.
Employment schemes are also falling victim to the cuts. Burnley Council’s jobs match programme, Licence to Skill, is operated in partnership with private firm Vedas Services.
Vedas’ website claims the scheme has so far helped 500 jobseekers into work. Confirmed figures from September 2008 show that midway through the project’s first year of operation it had managed to secure sustained (at least 13 weeks) employment for 68 previously unemployed people, at a total cost of just under £165,000 – under £2,500 for each unemployed person who had secured a sustained job via the scheme at that early stage.
But due to the central government funding cuts, the Licence to Skill jobs match programme is facing a 20 percent budget cut.
It is not possible from a distance to analyse the value of every pound of expenditure – we’ll leave it to others to shed tears over the 10 percent funding cut for ‘Branding Burnley’ – nor predict what the final impact of the cutbacks will be.
But worse is yet to come for Burnley. Likely cuts of £2m to the Housing Markets Renewal Programme and other announcements affecting economic projects mean that council managers expect total budget cuts of well over £3m this year. And a separate report presented to the council executive last night warned that future budget cuts are likely to have a “very substantial” overall effect.