A trade union boss has described news that South Tyneside Council is set to axe up to 600 jobs in the next four years as “frightening”.
The local authority, which employs about 2,700 people, made the devastating announcement yesterday, saying it faces having to make further budget savings of at least £55million.
Town Hall chiefs say they will try “wherever possible” to avoid compulsory redundancies.
A statement read: “South Tyneside Council has announced it is to begin formal discussions with the trade unions over the potential reduction of up to of 600 posts as part of its four-year budget planning process.
“It is anticipated that over the next four years, due to reductions in Government grant, the local authority will have to make savings of at least £55million. This is in addition to over £120million that it has saved since 2010.
“The final figure on the actual number of jobs that could be affected will not be known until later in the budgeting process. As in previous years, the council will make every effort to avoid compulsory redundancies by using its voluntary redundancy scheme, early retirement and the deletion of vacancies, where appropriate.
“South Tyneside Council is now informing the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills of the number of jobs that might be affected. Formal consultations will be taking place with staff and trade unions over any potential redundancies.
“The trade unions have been informed of the forecasted figure and ongoing consultation will continue with them.
“The HR1 covers the period October 2015 to the end of March 2020 and the figure of 600 jobs reflects the maximum number of potential job losses anticipated over this four-year period. The council will do everything it can to reduce this figure and, wherever possible, avoid compulsory redundancies.”
Karen Loughlin, regional organiser for Unison, said: “We were told there would be a new HR1 issued, but the scale of it has been frightening.
“There is a workforce of just over 2,700, so it is a massive proportion given the numbers already gone. For our staff it’s a real worry and should be a real worry for the residents of South Tyneside as we don’t know what council services will be affected.
“The council have said they hope it will be through voluntary redundancy – however, I think most of the people who wanted to leave have already left. I think for the first time we will be moving into compulsory redundancies. What other employment opportunities are there for staff in the borough?”
‘Blame the Government’, says senior councillor
A senior councillor insisted the Government should be held responsible for the impending job losses – not the local authority.
Coun Ed Malcolm, lead member for resources and innovation at South Tyneside Council, said: “I am forced to accept the submission of a HR1 indicating a loss of up to 600 council jobs by 2020.
“I say ‘forced’ as this is not something that South Tyneside Council wishes to take forward, but rather something that has been thrust upon us by this Conservative Government.
“The future looks bleak. While the HR1 form is a legal requirement and a formal process we must undertake, it is not something that myself or colleagues relish – far from it.
“Our estimate is that up to 600 council jobs could be affected in the budget-setting process which covers the term of the current parliament.
“Put bluntly – in 2020 South Tyneside Council as we know it will change dramatically.
“This undoubtedly will have an effect on our residents and the services which they receive.
“For the last five years the people of South Tyneside, including our own staff, have been savagely attacked by the impact of unprecedented Government cuts by the coalition.
“Now, the first Conservative budget for 19 years sees the cuts go even deeper.
“The government grant is supposed to support councils to provide services for the vulnerable, yet we are seeing a complete disregard for local people by this Government as it removes our vital funding year after year.
“Massive cuts to the support available for working people will hit families with children hardest.
“Of course, as a council we will do all we can to minimise the impact on frontline services, but while George Osborne and the Conservatives continue to play out our country’s future like some sort of PR exercise, I fear many won’t be aware of the full impact until it is too late
“In the short term we will see tax breaks financed by cuts to the welfare system.
“We are not talking about the ‘workshy’, as some people would have us believe.
“It is the lowest-paid workers who will feel the greatest impact – resulting in them sinking further into deprivation.
“Housing benefit support for adults aged 18-21 will also be abolished, which could lead to homelessness.
“As well as a reduction in our staff and the impact that will have on the services that we provide, the Conservative Government will also force local authorities and housing associations to cut rents by 1% for the next four years, thus reducing the cost of housing benefit for Central Government but leaving councils like ourselves with a huge funding gap and a detrimental impact on the Council’s Housing Revenue Account.
“It is impossible to plan for the future when the Government continually chops and changes the rules.”