LOCAL authorities throughout Britain are planning to make cuts of about 10 per cent in their workforce, anticipating huge budget cuts after the coming election. Estimates of the number of jobs at risk range from 25,000 to 170,000.
But local government unions are accusing the councils of going overboard and threatening totally unnecessary levels of cuts.
The estimate of job cuts is based a survey of 49 councils with a combined workforce of 256,000. And behind the scenes councils are reported to be preparing for cuts of 15 per cent over the next three years. Cuts like this would be needed, they calculate, to reduce the £178 billion public deficit drawn up by the Institute of Fiscal Studies.
Dame Margaret Eaton, who chairs the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents English and Welsh local authorities, said local authorities were being hit by “a perfect storm” in the recession with increasing pressure on their services and threatened budget cuts.
Some are already cutting supplies of biscuits to meetings and turning off street lighting in the middle of the night. But cuts like these are dismissed as inadequate gestures. Councils say only real cuts in jobs and services will balance the books if, as expected, funding from central government is sharply cut back.
The extent of the cuts will depend on who wins the election.
More than 70 per cent of councils in England that responded to the survey predicted spending cuts of between five per cent and 20 per cent.
Roads, libraries, the arts and leisure appear most at risk of cutbacks. Children’s social services, services for the homeless and planning appear to be safest.
Last week Birmingham City Council announced plans to cut 2,000 jobs, freeze staff pay and cut services.
The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, John Denham, confirmed that council will face spending cuts but the Government has drawn up guidelines to “help” them cut without damaging frontline services. These guidelines include suggesting different services share the same buildings and avoiding duplication of services between local and central government.
Public sector union Unison described the proposed cuts as “politically motivated”. General Secretary Dave Prentis accused local authorities of acting politically in cutting budgets and declaring job cuts of tens of thousands over the next few years, when they didn’t have to.
He said: “Councils’ decisions to cut spending, freeze council tax and cut jobs are politically motivated. For 2010-2011, councils have received an extra four per cent from the Government and the majority have billions of pounds in unallocated reserves.
“And our members have helped save billions in efficiency savings over the past few years. The Government called for three per cent efficiency savings, but councils have been making more than seven per cent savings and pocketing the money.
“Freezing council tax is a political gimmick. It may mean individual savings of a few pounds, but the overall impact on services will be greater. Local businesses rely on councils to thrive, council workers spend their money in their areas and vulnerable people rely on the council to help them through the recession. Cutting jobs makes no sense at all.”
The giant union Unite said that threatening massive job cuts was “scaremongering”.
Gail Cartmail, Unite assistant general secretary for the public sector, said: “Following the bruising weekend opinion polls for David Cameron, the Tory-dominated county councils are now showing their true colours.
“These authorities are planning or already implementing cuts to jobs and services in a year when they have received a four per cent growth in funding from central government.
“It is a con and scaremongering tactics to make people believe that somehow it is all right to accept that much cherished local services, such as their local library or nursery, are now somehow ripe to be targeted for the axe.
“What the Conservatives — and the right-wing economists who support them — fail to realise is that local government in particular, and the public sector generally, are economic generators in their own right.
“In a number of cities as many as two thirds of the economically active are employed in the public sector and the impact of such cuts would be devastating to local economies.
“The reason that local government provides such services as roads, libraries, the arts and leisure services, which appear to be top of the list for these cuts, is that there is a long-standing demand for them — they are valued by their local communities.
“The honoured framework of local government, built up decade by decade by the Victorians, is now going to be the latest victim of the hedge-fund mentality of modern Conservatism, should David Cameron gain power.”
The BBC survey was sent to 150 chief executives of county and unitary councils and metropolitan and London boroughs. District councils were excluded.