Council job cuts ‘rubbing salt into the wound’

Coun Tony Williams

Coun Tony Williams

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Blackpool’s Tory leader has called for the resort’s free breakfast scheme to be scrapped as the town faces yet more savage cuts to council spending.

Coun Tony Williams also accused town hall chiefs of ‘rubbing salt into the wounds’ of staff facing redundancy after it emerged some top earners could be in for a pay increase.

As revealed in The Gazette yesterday, Blackpool Council must find another £20m of savings next year with 250 job losses.

Around 200 staff will be made redundant and 50 contracts will be axed.

Coun Williams called for the school breakfast scheme - whose £1.3m budget is being slashed by £500,000 - to be scrapped altogether.

He said; “We have been spending £1.5m per year on a free school breakfast scheme which has delivered none of the benefits Coun Blackburn said it would, that’s a total of over £4.5m.

“A lot of jobs could have been saved with that amount of money, but Coun Blackburn won’t scrap it because it was his idea.

“He may reduce it somewhat but if he can’t deliver a full service he shouldn’t deliver it at all. He should admit he was wrong and scrap it completely.”

One deputy head today said while the free school breakfast scheme did help vulnerable children, it was not an essential part of the school day.

Deputy head-teacher at Anchorsholme Primary Academy in East Pines Drive, Andrew Hurley, said: “In reality, the free breakfast scheme is relatively new in terms of how long it has been running and we did survive for years without it.

“It’s of welcome benefit to a number of children who don’t get breakfast before school but there are ways around it and I’m sure there is wastage somewhere.

“So although the scheme is welcome and it’s nice to offer to more vulnerable children, it would not be the be all and end all if it came to an end or was reduced.”

Council leader Coun Simon Blackburn says the scheme is making a difference to pupils’ prospects.

He said: “The primary school breakfast and milk scheme is a very important part of levelling the extreme health and wellbeing inequalities in Blackpool, which affects pupils ability to learn.”

The council launched the scheme in January 2013 for the resort’s 11,000 primary school pupils.

It is believed the £500,000 savings will be made by better procurement of the food and more efficient use of staff time.

Adult and children’s services are among the departments which will bear the brunt of the overall savings while council tax could be increased.

Meanwhile a review of chief officers salary mean three executives will be on renumeration packages worth more than £100,000 if the move is agreed by the full council.

At the moment only the chief executive earns a six figure sum, but it is proposed the director of public health and the director of people are put into the higher band. Coun Williams said: “I am deeply sorry for those losing their jobs and I hope that some staff will choose the voluntary redundancy option.

“However the situation will be even more distressing for those going as I understand some senior officers may soon be in line for substantial pay rises.

“Talk about rubbing salt into the wound.”

But a report to councillors says the restructure of senior executives will save £33,000 overall because other chief officer roles have been scrapped.

These include the assistant chief executive for built environment, and the removal of the post of deputy director of people which included support for schools.

The change towards academies has ruled out the need for the post.

Coun Williams also slammed ‘wasteful’ spending by the council on projects such as the £200,000 spent on the Devonshire Road car park which is now set to be closed, and the £1.1m purchase of the former Syndicate nightclub.

Delays in demolishing the building cost the council £116,000 in the last financial year.

Coun Williams added; “The cuts are hard to take but everyone realises they are necessary as we end the cash rich culture and reckless spending of local councils and the previous Labour government.

“It’s also no use moaning about government cuts when this council continue to waste millions on unused car parks, buying the Syndicate, building still-empty retail units, failed new car parks and expensive office accommodation.”

Union leaders have blamed the cuts on the Conservative government.

Maria Moss, regional organiser for Unison, said the government was “deliberately ignoring the fact that keeping people in work not only keeps services in place but contributes to the local economy.”

But Blackpool North and Cleveleys Conservative MP Paul Maynard said Blackpool Council had to be more innovative to ease the impact of the cuts.

He said: “It is very sad news for those that will be losing their jobs.

“It underlines the fact while all councils are facing bigger challenges, the demands placed upon Blackpool are not getting any easier.

“The council therefore has to try significantly harder than it is doing already to think differently about how it operates.

“We see far too many examples of wasteful projects in the town and it frustrates me that hard-working people are having to pay the price for that.”

Further financial details of where the axe will fall have emerged.

Nearly £1.5m will be slahed from adult services, while nearly £2m will be lost from the children’s services budget.

The bulk of the savings will be made through general efficiencies with £400,000 being saved from a review of Hornby Road residential children’s home.

Another £1.8m will be saved from community and environmental services including £425,000 by stopping the green waste collection service.

The public health budget will lose £1.7m.

The Council announced the Illuminations’ £2m budget would not be affected by the cuts - something welcomed by volunteers.

Shirley Hunt, of the Friends of Blackpool Illuminations, said: “It’s great the budget hasn’t been cut.The Illuminations bring so many people into Blackpool and they do so much for tourism.

“I’m sad other services are being cut but in my opinion the Illuminations are vital to the town. Without them to bring in the tourists imagine how many businesses would go under.

“You just can’t imagine Blackpool without the Illuminations.

“The budget is a major issue each year. It only covers the actual running costs of the Illuminations. We need support and donations from local people and businesses to buy new lights and put on something slightly different each year.

“They couldn’t run for as long as they do if the budget was cut.”