‘Council job cuts can’t be avoided’

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COUNCIL bosses have warned job cuts are “unavoidable” as they look to slash £15m from the budget over the next three years.

Hartlepool Borough Council officers say the financial picture is “very challenging” as they look to cut £6.7m before the start of the 2012-13 financial year.

It is not yet clear how many posts are under threat.

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But a new report to the cabinet committee says the budget pressures are worse than anything seen in the past 50 years.

Over the next three years, the local authority has to slash £15m from its £90m budget due to national spending cuts.

Last year the council slashed about £5.6m and by 2014 the overall budget will be slashed by a third.

Senior councillors will meet on Monday to discuss the budget proposals in depth, but officers are looking at streamlining and restructuring services.

Cuts this year resulted in about 70 people being made redundant, but officers say they look to minimise compulsory redundancies “wherever possible”.

A report to cabinet added: “It is inevitable that significant voluntary and compulsory redundancies will be unavoidable over the next three years.

“At this stage it is not possible to estimate the number of potential redundancies, either voluntary or compulsory.”

As part of the ongoing budget process there will be a voluntary redundancy sweep to establish the level of interest from staff.

Hartlepool council has been given detailed grant allocations for this year and next financial year and the cuts for the four-year spending review period have been frontloaded in the first two.

A report to cabinet said: “The financial challenges facing the public sector and councils are greater than anything which has existed in the past 50 years.

“Addressing these will require the council to adopt a range of measures including reassessing priorities, new ways of working, including issues such as joint working with other councils/organisations, trading companies and trusts where these provide financial savings and protect services.”

Meanwhile, unavoidable one-off costs to the council over the next three years include redundancy, early retirement and housing market renewal commitments.

Officers estimate those costs to be around £14m, of which £9.6m has already been earmarked from reserves and other pots of cash.

But that leaves a funding shortfall of £4.4m just to finance the one-off costs.

Selling council-owned land, including the former Jesmond Road Primary School and Foggy Furze library site, over the next few years is one option to bridge the gap.

The report added: “In relation to the unavoidable one-off strategic costs these need to be funded as far as possible from one-off resources to avoid these costs falling on the main revenue budget, which would increase the level of cuts which need to be made over the next three years.”

The cabinet committee is due to discuss the draft budget proposals on Monday, October 10, at 9.15am at the Civic Centre, in Victoria Road.