A COUNCIL worker who lost her job amid savage budget cuts says it could spell a step backwards for minority groups.
Vijaya Kotur was Hartlepool Borough Council’s principal diversity officer for almost six years and liaised with minority groups, including ethnic groups, disabled groups and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, to ensure equal opportunities.
But she was one of 86 council staff made redundant as the local authority faces making savings of £20m over the next four years.
During a meeting of the full council last week, in which the budget was set, Black Minority and Ethnic (BME) group representative Teresa Lee asked Councillor Jonathan Brash, performance portfolio holder, why Mrs Kotur’s role had to be cut, saying she had a vital role in helping minorities and urged him to reconsider.
But Coun Brash said to cope with the cuts that it was necessary to reduce the council’s diversity budget by £40,000 – including Mrs Kotur’s £30,000 salary – to £13,000, saying: “In January I was clear that I didn’t think the diversity budget could be left untouched when so many other services were facing financial challenges.”
He said he accepted there may be a “detrimental impact” on diverse groups but said the work by the Talking With Communities group would continue.
He added: “Unfortunately, the reality as with 86 compulsory redundancies, each and every one of those individuals performed an excellent service to Hartlepool council.”
He added the decision wouldn’t alter the council’s commitment to diversity and ensuring every single group in the town is supported to the best of the authority’s ability.
After the meeting, Mrs Kotur, a mother-of-two, told the Mail: “I assumed my role might change but I didn’t think I’d be made redundant.
“I feel minority groups have got a voice now.
“I want them to continue to fight for what they want.
“But I feel dialogue will fail between the council and these groups.”
The 51-year-old, who lives in Newton Aycliffe, said during consultations, she had suggested alternatives, such as reducing her hours or introducing a small charge for her services, but claimed “they didn’t listen”.
A council spokesman diversity and equality issues are “now embedded within the day-to-day work undertaken by officers” and added: “There has been full consultation with staff affected and in some cases an alternative to redundancy has been agreed by the council provided the equivalent level of financial savings could be secured.”