Councillors braced for crunch talks on budget

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DOZENS of people are set to lose their jobs as councillors prepare to confirm savage budget cuts.

Hartlepool Borough Council is faced with slashing £15m from its £90m budget over the next three years as a result of deep government cutbacks, with around £6m being cut in the next 12 months.

Almost 90 council workers lost their jobs this year and the 2012-13 budget cuts will see 42 redundancies, with the possibility of a further 12.

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Council bosses say they have tried to minimise job losses, but warned the situation will be even tougher in future years.

Senior councillors are set to meet next week to discuss the final budget proposals before they go before full council.

Ahead of the meeting, Chris Little, the council’s chief finance officer, explained the grim situation facing the local authority.

Mr Little said: “This is the second year that Hartlepool and the rest of the North-East has suffered disproportionate budget cuts.

“This means that Hartlepool will lose a further £4.1m, or eight per cent.

“Over two years it means that Hartlepool has had a cumulative reduction in 2011-12 and 2012-13 of £10.2m, or 20 per cent.”

He said it means the council is having to make

further savings of £5.7m in 2012-13 to balance the books.

Grant cuts have been classed by government as “spending power cuts” and Hartlepool has the 9th highest reduction in England of £46.74 per person.

Mr Little added: “This has been extremely challenging and the council has had to have a look at all areas.

“The proposals put forward aim, wherever possible, to minimise the impact on front-line services.

“This has been achieved through looking at efficiency and staffing levels.

“The council has tried to minimise the number of job losses, but given the scale of the cuts it has not been possible to avoid job losses completely.”

Finance chiefs are forecasting a net under-spend of £4m this year as a result of “robust” management of budgets, “good house keeping”, holding posts vacant and benefits from temporary interest savings on council’s borrowings.

There has also been an early saving of £1m from the 2012-13 budget proposals due to some measures being introduced a few months early.

Mr Little said: “People may ask why we have not made some of these efficiencies in previous years.

“Up until 2011-12 the focus on councils was to improve services but the focus has now changed to reducing public spending.

“This requires the council to re-examine all areas of its operation.

“With this in mind, there is additional pressure on staff and the council which has resulted in people working longer and harder than before.

“There has been a great deal of good-will to ensure that standards and services are maintained.”

He added that the majority of council employees live in the town and are “committed” to providing the best possible services.

The budget includes proposals to freeze council tax levels in order to qualify for a one-off government grant of about £1m.

The council’s cabinet committee is due to meet on Monday, February 6, at the Civic Centre, in Victoria Road.

The budget will then go before the full council.