Union leaders today pledged to do all they could to keep compulsory redundancies at Blackpool Council to a minimum in the face of crippling cuts.
Today council leader Simon Blackburn revealed the authority is facing cuts of £36m by 2016, a move which is expected to see 700 jobs go in the next two years alone.
Adult services, transport, children’s services and aspects of tourism will all be affected by the savings, which Coun Blackburn today branded “brutal”.
Last month the council revealed an enhanced voluntary redundancy scheme offering staff an additional £5,000 on top of their basic entitlement.
Sixty volunteers have come forward, with more expected once ‘at risk’ notices go out.
Savings of £2.3m will be made if staff agree to take an additional day of unpaid leave – up from four days last year to five – and agree to increments being frozen.
Sean Gibson, regional organiser for local government union Unison, said: “Services will be massively affected.
“We will be looking to minimise the risk of compulsory redundancy and get as many as possible through the enhanced voluntary scheme.
“Without a doubt it is going to be a completely different landscape after the cuts.
“Blackpool has had previous cutbacks in staff and for it to be happening again so soon is devastating. I can see more austerity in the public sector to come.
“Local authorities need to challenge the Government on these cuts.”
Coun Tony Williams, leader of the Tory opposition group on Blackpool Council, said he feared some frontline services would be lost in the wake of the huge cuts the council is facing.
He said: “It saddens me that so many people will lose their jobs and also possibly learn of their fate so close to Christmas. It will also mean that some front line services will be cut.
“However what we need to remember is why this Government has been forced to make austerity savings. They had no choice after inheriting Labour’s legacy of crippling debt.
“The coalition don’t want to make these cuts – they have to.
“However some residents of Blackpool might be questioning some financial management by this council.
“The huge Lights Switch-On loss and the decision to borrow millions of pounds to bulldoze the Syndicate building are just two financial pots that could have saved quite a few jobs.
“If Conservatives get back in power in the town I promise to make every effort to establish a fairer settlement deal for Blackpool and re-employ those who deserve to keep their jobs.”
Although the Illuminations will continue to receive its £2.2m annual funding, tourism bosses are to consider new ways of funding the Lights.
This could include a ‘congestion charge’ by which people pay to drive through them between Central Pier and North Pier.
Alternatively, visitors could park their cars and walk through that section – which would also generate revenue.
Coun Blackburn said: “There is to be no change in this budget for the Illuminations for the next two years but we will look at it in the long term because if this is a permanent shift in local authority funding, it is difficult to imagine how we can keep justifying spending £2.2m on lights forever.
“There are two key ways forward. The first is to create a congestion zone in part of the Illuminations and give people opportunity to pay to drive through that part, or they can park and walk through.
“There is also an opportunity to create a business improvement district (BID), similar to the one in the town centre, for the Promenade because we believe it is the businesses on the Promenade that benefit primarily from the Illuminations.”
Businesses within a BID pay an additional one per cent on their business rates for local improvements. Some of this funding could go towards the Illuminations.
THE EFFECTS OF THE CUTS AT A GLANCE
All council departments have to make savings, with the main targets being:
• Adult Services: Savings of £1.5m including £480,000 to be cut from the Phoenix Centre (a mental health unit), the Geldof complex care unit in Bispham which looks after people with physical disabilities caused by head injury, and Palmer Supported Tenancies, which provides homes for people in the community suffering from mental health problems.
• While centres may be closed, the service will be recommissioned and taken over by external providers with some funding still coming from the council.
• Built Environment : Savings of £1.7m including an estimated £550,000 from the Transport budget which includes axing the road safety department.
• Council chiefs believe other organisations, such as the fire service, will be able to take over the responsibility.
• Street cleansing and school crossing patrols will be protected.
• Children’s Services: Savings of £1.3m.
• Children’s centres will be reviewed in order to ensure money is going towards supporting the most vulnerable families.
• Frontline social workers will be protected.
• Regeneration, Tourism and Culture: Savings of £348,000.
• Libraries are protected, Marketing Blackpool is being brought back in-house and new ways of funding the Illuminations will be considered for the longer term.
• Leisure and Operational Services: Savings of £1.1m.
• Includes reducing the frequency of green waste bin collections during the winter months.
• Joint working with the Friends of Stanley Park will save on maintenance costs, while it is hoped to generate more income through business development.