The cut
Manchester City Council has been preparing – for the Labour conference and for the Chancellor’s announcement in October about how deep the spending cuts will be, and just how local authorities will be affected.

But it already knows it will have less – so far £7 million less, following the emergency budget in June. A figure of £7m isn’t a huge sum for a council that has a revenue budget of £491m this year.  But council leader Sir Richard Leese says: “These cuts will pale into insignificance in comparison with what is likely to happen in future years. Start tightening your belts now!”

The background
Cuts were inevitable, whoever won the general election, because of the deficit in the public finances. But the coalition government is cutting faster than Labour said it would have done.

Manchester City Council prefers to use the word ‘savings’ rather than ‘cuts’. It says it has identified savings of £96m for the next three years – £20.3m this financial year and £40m and £36m in the following years. Set against the overall budget, this equates to a cut of four per cent this year.

The analysis
The city council has already made some decisions about what will go. Five hundred staff leave the council every year – 300 won’t be replaced,  saving millions of pounds.

And £4m will be saved by cutting procurement costs and opening a single customer service centre to replace all of the centres that had previously existed. This centre brings together every service the council runs and is a one-stop-shop for people living in Manchester.

Beyond that in the next three years, council departments will save £37m. Manchester plans to save £2.8m by placing children in care with foster families rather than housing them in council homes.

Another £1.8m will be cut from staff costs in the social services department by taking a “robust” approach to sickness absence.

And £725,000 will be saved this year by introducing so-called “individual cash budgets” for elderly and disabled people who rely on council support in their own homes. Money is saved because the middle man is cut out: instead of the council paying an agency, people pay their carer directly.

The council says it will also make savings of £360,000 by employing fewer staff at the central library.

According to a council statement: “These do not equate to cuts in services. It is much more about procuring and delivering services in a more cost-effective way, and we are very much committed to providing the key frontline services for Manchester residents.”

It is true that it is not all bad news for Manchester. In a £146m investment, five newly-built academy buildings have just opened in the city, two of them new schools. The Manchester academies programme is different from others across the UK because Manchester City Council is a co-sponsor of the schools.

The verdict
So, locally it’s going to hurt, but these are still relatively modest savings. Of course there’s likely to be much worse to come – as Manchester’s leader said:  “These cuts will pale into insignificance in comparison with what is likely to happen in future years.”