Misery as council slashes 1,500 jobs

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The Independent Online

Union leaders warned today that plans by a county council to axe 1,500 jobs over the next three years because of cuts in Government funds will pile "misery" into a recession-hit region.

Unison said vital services will be hit because of cutbacks at Somerset County Council aimed at tackling a £75 million deficit.

Ken Maddock, leader of the Tory-controlled council, said the authority will have to cut back many of its services and make compulsory redundancies.

He said: "We will have to deal with losing 1,500 posts at this council over the next three years. We will have to stop almost all our major building projects, including a new school, children centre, and pedestrianisation scheme.

"We already have to look at cutting services including temporarily reducing some library opening times and closing one down.

"The national financial picture is bleak. We know that, like every other council in the country, we all face huge cuts in our funding from the coalition Government."

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: "Job losses on this scale will hit the people of Somerset hard, scaling back vital community services, and hitting spending power.

"Cutting most new building projects will only make the dole queues longer. The jobs market is tough enough. People will struggle to find work elsewhere.

"This council is obsessed with freezing council tax, and this has added to the deficit.

"This money could, and should, be used to save jobs and services, and support the region through the downturn."

Unison said today's announcement was the latest in a "long line" of job cuts in councils across the country in recent weeks, including 3,000 at Nottingham County Council, 1,400 in Lincolnshire and 500 in Bolton.

Mr Prentis said: "There is an alternative to the mantra of cuts. America is keeping up spending to boost recovery and stave off the dreaded double dip.

"Unison is committed to protecting jobs and services. The ideological choice to cut the deficit hard and fast is causing misery to hundreds of thousands of people who work in and rely on public services."

Unison pointed out that latest unemployment figures for the South West showed that 165,000 (6.1%) people were already out of work.

Mr Maddock said the council was working on an assumption that its main Government grant will be cut by between 25% and 40%, which meant it would have to reduce its spending.

The council's workforce stands at around 6,500 but this is expected to fall to around 5,000, said Mr Maddock.

He said: "We've already carried out a trawl for voluntary redundancies, with more than 1,000 people interested, and we are working through that process now.

"We've had a recruitment freeze in place for over a year that has delivered more than £1.5 million in savings to date.

"Sadly though, the scale of these cuts means that there will have to be some compulsory redundancies. We will try to keep these to a minimum but inevitably there will be pain as a result of the decisions we have to take."

The council also announced there would be no increase in council tax for a second year in 2011