William Eichler 31 August 2018

West Country council proposes 130 job cuts to balance books

Somerset County Council has proposed over 100 job cuts in order to make savings in the face of central Government funding reductions.

In 2017/18, the county council needed to find an estimated £19.5m in savings, but only made cuts of £11.1m.

The West Country council admitted last month that it may be forced to impose ‘severe spending restrictions’ in the face of a projected net overspend of £12m.

Council leader David Fothergill said the local authority had to be ‘open and honest’ about the financial challenge it was facing, which means jobs are likely to be lost.

‘We’ve found around £130m of savings and efficiencies in the last eight years and you cannot take 40% of funding out of an organisation without there being an impact,’ he explained.

Cllr Fothergill blamed the authority’s financial difficulties on the Government’s austerity drive.

‘The trend of falling central Government funding and increasing costs and demand continues and there is no sign of any bailout from Westminster,’ he said.

‘We have to live within our means and all services have been asked to find further savings.’

Earlier this month, the council proposed that staff take two days of compulsory unpaid leave over the Christmas holidays in both 2018 and 2019 which could save £1m over the two-year period.

However, the trade union Unite criticised this proposal and said council employees should not have to ‘bear the brunt of this council’s managerial incompetence.’

Cllr Fothergill stressed that no decisions had yet been made on redundancies and said a formal consultation with trades unions had been started.

‘The coming weeks will be very difficult for the council and its staff, but we have to achieve financial stability and the end result will be a council that can afford itself and continue to provide valuable, long-term sustainable services for our residents,’ he concluded.

Somerset CC Labour leader Cllr Leigh Redman criticised the Conservative-led council’s decision to cut jobs and blamed the previous two Tory-led administrations which, he said, ‘started the decline.’

‘There were massive cuts to services which started in 2010, led by then-leader Ken Maddock,’ Cllr Redman wrote yesterday on the Somerset Labour site.

‘The following administration’s choice to freeze council tax for seven years, which combined with the Government’s austerity agenda increased the pain.’

Cllr Redman claimed that children’s services received an inadequate Ofsted rating as a result of the first round of cuts and said that an increase in demand for adult services has ‘added to the problem.’

‘Each element has had its own impact, and the three councils on the edge of the financial precipice are all Conservative-led (Northamptonshire, East Sussex and Somerset), and they all were some of the first to start the austerity cuts to local services,’ he wrote.

‘In turn, these were all compounded by cuts to our Government grants – so we have Tory councils under a Tory government out of a coalition Government.’

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