For every £3 collected in all taxes in Leeds, government of all levels spends £4 . We are a richer and more productive city than many of our close neighbours, but we are not yet successful enough to pay our own bills.
If we want to pay our own way, and be in a strong position to take more decisions ourselves about what we do, then we need to raise taxes, cut spending, and grow our economy.
Leeds' financial plan explains how it is doing all three things. It is increasing council tax by 3.99% this year, including a 2% increase ring-fenced for adult social care. It is cutting £31m of spending on top of significant cuts in previous years. And it is helping to secure investment of £932m over the next three years to grow the economy of Leeds.
But our city is not standing still. People are living longer and families today are smaller than they used to be. In the future, unless we grow as a city, there will be fewer working-age people to pay for the pensions and healthcare that a larger number of older people will be entitled to.
By 2030 there will be 50% more people aged over 75 living in Leeds. There will be about 25% more people aged under 16 too. That means that tax rises will need to continue, that spending cuts will need to deepen, or that we will have to grow the economy of our city even more.
To pay for the services that we enjoy today and that we want for the future I think that the easiest way forward is to grow. Well-planned and sustainable growth, but growth all the same.
Schemes like the Kirkstall Forge redevelopment, Trinity shopping centre, and Victoria Gate provide the city with new shops, offices, and homes. They are already delivering more taxes via business rates to fund services.
There are many more plans for growth in Leeds such as the East Leeds extension, the South Bank redevelopment, a new village at Thorp Arch , and much more. Details are in places like the Leeds strategic plan and many are already under consultation.
I think that the more we grow the less we’ll need to raise taxes and the less we’ll need to cut spending.
But growth never comes without growing pains and there are many people in Leeds who think that we need to grow less, or that we need to grow in a different way. Many people think that the Kirkstall Bridge Shopping Park has caused unacceptable congestion in West Leeds. Others think it should never have been built given the flood risk.
There are local campaigns against housing development in most parts of outer Leeds. People are worried about losing parks, countryside, and fields. They are worried about crowded schools, GP surgeries, and roads.
There are further debates about what type of growth we want: should we focus more on manufacturing? Or creative industries? Or financial services? Or favour whoever can pay the highest rent?
Should we focus on growth in the city-centre or in the suburbs? Should we give individual citizens and builders more or less power to decide what we allow to be built?
These are all important questions and I’ll share my thoughts and the data I used to form them in future blogs.