SOUTH Tyneside Council faces a £48m cash shortfall over the next three years, new projected figures reveal.
Council officals are preparing for financial austerity well beyond the next general election in 18 months and until at least 2018.
That is a result of reduced Government funding of £25m and rising costs – particularly in the area of adult care – of £23m.
Meanwhile, negotiations are continuing over the shedding of 350 posts by the end of August next year.
Despite the pressures, Coun Ed Malcolm, the council’s lead member for resources and innovation, has again pledged to target efficiency savings and “protect front-line services”.
Consultation on budget proposals will begin in December with residents, businesses, elected members, trade unions and voluntary, community and other groups.
The budget will then be set at the end of February.
Mr Malcolm said: “The days of salami slicing the budget are long gone. We have many tough decisions to make and efficiency savings to make. The last few years has seen a dramatic impact on the size of our workforce.
“It promises to be the longest period of austerity in modern history.
“The chancellor talks of another six to seven years of austerity to balance the books. Whatever decisions we take we will protect front-line services.”
Since 2010, the council has shed 1,200 jobs and has identified £75m of savings – made up evenly of reduced government funding and rising costs.
So far all the redundancies have been voluntary.
But with each passing month that becomes more difficult to achieve, according to Merv Butler, branch secretary of Unison South Tyneside.
Mr Butler said: “There is going to be more of the same and worse and it becomes more difficult to find these efficiencies the longer these austerity measures imposed by the Government go on.
“We are meeting each week with senior human resources officers to discuss how to manage service reviews. It is extremely painful.
“People feel they are left with no choice if reviews remove their jobs. We are still attempting to find alternative jobs, particularly in day care, but it is becoming increasingly difficult.”
Mr Butler also questioned whether the council was justified in saying it was “protecting frontline services”.
He added: “I’m not sure that is the appropriate phrase.
“By front-line services do you mean that the bins are being emptied and the streets are being swept? The reality is you can’t manage services without support to make sure people get to where they need to be.”