Councils ‘should do more’ claims minister as jobs axe falls in Hartlepool

Hartlepool Civic Centre.
Hartlepool Civic Centre.

A GOVERNMENT minister has urged councils to be more frugal in their spending to support frontline services.

Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis says there is “immense waste” across the public sector and councils could plan budgets better.

Up to 60 Hartlepool Borough Council jobs are at risk, with budget proposals for 2014-15 seeing 27 compulsory redundancies and 33 voluntary redundancies.

Public sector union officials said the proposed job losses, to meet departmental cuts of £4.376m, painted a bleak future, with services across the board at risk.

Unison chiefs said without a change in the Government’s council funding strategy, by 2016-17, the council “could be standing on the edge of a fiscal cliff with vital services seriously under threat”.

The union said with the council being forced to make around £19.5m in efficiency savings by the Coalition Government over the last three years, more than 100 jobs have been lost as a consequence of the savage cuts.

But today Mr Lewis said: “Residents’ satisfaction with local government has either gone up or remained the same since 2010.

“Unison’s exaggerated claims of doom and gloom have not been realised.

“There is still immense waste across the public sector.

“Councils have real scope for further sensible savings to freeze council tax, pay off the deficit left by the last administration and still support frontline services.”

The Department for Communities and Local Government says decisions to cut jobs come entirely from councils and there are other ways savings can be made before jobs are lost.

It says Local Government settlements are only a proportion of council funding, with council tax and business rates accounting for a lot of income elsewhere.

The Department has published a 50 Ways To Save document and tips for local authority savings include “clamp down on corporate charge cards”, “tackle fraud” including council tax fraud, “close council cash offices” and encourage payment at Post Offices, “scrap the chief executive post entirely” and “freeze councillor allowances and end councillor pensions”.

Other suggestions include “stop translating documents into foreign languages” and “similarly, do not give community grants to organisations which promote segregation or division in society” and “end lifestyle and equality questionnaires”.