Council praise for ‘minimal’ cuts

Christopher Akers-Belcher
Christopher Akers-Belcher

A LOCAL authority chief has praised council officers for their work to protect services and minimise job losses amid budget cuts.

Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher, leader of Hartlepool Borough Council, has commended senior staff for their efforts to guard against extra job losses and keeping effects on services “minimal” as the authority faces “unprecedented” grant cuts.

Coun Akers-Belcher says the authority is in an “extremely difficult position” given the level of cuts, though the council is doing its “utmost” to protect jobs and services where possible.

The leader’s commendations come after Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis said there is “immense waste” across the public sector and councils could plan budgets better, as reported in yesterday’s Mail.

Mr Lewis’ comments came after the local branch of public sector union Unison blasted Central Government and blamed cuts in Government funding for forcing Hartlepool council to propose 27 compulsory redundancies and 33 voluntary redundancies in 2014-15 to meet departmental cuts of £4.376m.

Unison also said these cuts made for a bleak future for frontline council services.

But Mr Lewis said it was not all “doom and gloom” and added that councils have “real scope for further sensible savings” that would reduce the need to cut jobs.

But today Coun Akers-Belcher said: “No one wants to see job losses, but we are in an extremely difficult position given the unprecedented scale of the Government’s unfair grant cuts.

“Nevertheless, we will continue to do our utmost to protect jobs and services wherever possible, and we are grateful for Unison’s expression of support.

“Despite the cuts that have already been made and those that are still to come, Hartlepool Council’s position compares favourably with many other North-East councils and I would like to commend the council’s officers for their efforts to protect services and keep job losses to a minimum.

“Of the jobs to be lost in 2014-15, it is important to note that 20 are currently vacant posts and over half of the remaining losses are voluntary.”

From 2014-15 to 2016-17, it is estimated the authority will have to find savings of between £17.1m and £21.6m, which is on top of the £19.5m already saved over the last three years.

Representatives from 12 North-East councils, including leader of Durham County Council, Councillor Simon Henig, will meet Mr Lewis in Westminister next week to plead for a rethink over plans to take another £109m from the region.