A union has raised concerns about a transformation programme currently being implemented by Taunton Deane and West Somerset Councils which could result in staff reductions.
The councils, which share one staff, both agreed to a transformation business case in 2016 which is aimed at delivering annual savings of £2.6m.
The two authorities have also applied to the secretary of state for communities and local government for permission to merge - a plan they estimate would save £0.5m a year.
The transformation case is designed to modernise the councils through the use of new technologies and by making their processes and ways of working more efficient. This involves reducing costs by around 20%.
However, Unison warns this could lead up to nearly a third of staff in some areas losing their jobs.
‘We have known for some time that a cut of 22% in the staff budget was to be expected, and we believe that, in some service areas, this will result in actual staffing reductions closer to 30%,’ said a spokesperson for the union’s South West Regional Office.
‘With the best will in the world, there is no way that the same level of services can be delivered to the community with cuts of this scale — a cut of 22%, 25% or 30% is not merely an “efficiency saving”.’
Defending the plans, John Williams, leader of Taunton Deane Borough Council, said the cuts were necessary in order to make the council ‘fit for purpose’.
‘We have to make savings - we have seen our funding reduce so we have to look how we can maintain efficient and cost-effective services our residents value and make the council fit for purpose,’ he said.
Cllr Williams admitted that in the process of transforming the council it is likely there will be job losses. However, he stressed it is unclear how many people this would affect.
‘We are looking to reduce costs, by around 20% as approved in July 2016 and nothing has changed since members agreed that at that time,’ he said.
‘The process will inevitably lead to a reduction in the number of staff employed.
‘However we are looking to do this through efficiencies as opposed to specific numbers so it is not possible to say how many people may be affected.’
The Unison spokesperson added this case is representative of the wider sector under the Government’s austerity agenda.
‘Local government in Britain has been forced to endure a slow, lingering death as a result of too much central control and an inadequate local tax base,’ they said.
‘The difficulties facing Taunton Deane and West Somerset demonstrate once again that a fairer financial deal for councils is long overdue.’