Blackpool Council is set to axe 300 jobs in a bid to slash £25m off its budget over the next 12 months – with the threat of more to come.
Staff were given the devastating news at a series of briefings yesterday and today and will start to receive letters next week informing them their job is ‘at risk’ as the authority battles to meet savage Government cuts targets.
Council leader Coun Simon Blackburn today branded the move “gut-wrenching” but pledged every effort was being made to minimise the impact of the cuts.
Slashing staff numbers will save £10m out of the £25.2m savings required.
But town hall chiefs are warning another £20m will have to be saved next year with at least another 100 jobs expected to go.
Furious union chiefs today said the move was evidence of the “decimation of local authorities” because of Government cuts, while council bosses said there “appears to be no light at the end of the tunnel”.
The need to make swingeing savings will also affect areas across the authority, with town hall chiefs admitting residents and visitors will now start to see the cutbacks hitting home.
Among the efficiency measures proposed are a reduced events budget for VisitBlackpool, potentially out-sourcing parts of the Illuminations service and axing area forum grants used to fund community projects.
The impact will be felt on services such as street cleaning and highway maintenance, while options to hand the Grundy Art Gallery over to be run by a charitable trust are also under consideration.
But there will be no cuts to children’s social care, while libraries, school crossing patrols and the Rideability bus service will be protected.
The council’s controversial free school breakfasts scheme, which costs £1.3m a year, will also be unaffected.
And despite the need to cut costs, there is some good news for residents – there will be no increase in the council tax.
Coun Blackburn said: “It is gut-wrenching to know that hundreds of staff have come to work today and will go home with an uncertain future through no fault of their own.
“I cannot imagine how they feel but they have my every sympathy, it must be a terribly upsetting time.”
He added: “Unfortunately there appears to be no light at the end of the tunnel – services will continue to be cut and jobs lost.
“This will not go unnoticed by the residents of Blackpool, the businesses that operate here and the visitors who come to stay.”
Since 2010, Blackpool Council has had to slash £68m from its budget, and 759 workers have lost their jobs, bringing the total workforce to 2,463.
Coun Blackburn said in the face of continuing cuts, the council had to adapt and in some case “revolutionise” its service provision.
He said: “The proposals I’m presenting today could see services funded by partners, delivered by external agencies or cease entirely.
“There is no easy way of cutting £25m from our budget.This year has been the toughest yet. Hours and hours have been spent poring over the accounts, analysing every pound that is spent.”
Particular pressures on the budget include rising demand for children’s and adult social services.
The children’s social care budget has been increased by £1.1m in 2015/16 partly in response to the increased level of referrals triggered by high profile child exploitation cases such as Operation Yewtree and inquiries in Rochdale and Rotherham.
Adult Social Care is expected to cost the council £27m in the coming year as people live longer but suffer increasing health problems.
Coun Tony Williams (pictured above), leader of the Conservative party opposition group on the council blasted the proposals, claiming the council would not have had to make as many cuts if it had not wasted money on “unnecessary and useless projects”.
He said: “This current administration as usual blames the austerity cuts on their decision to cut some vital services, and while I agree the savings that have to be made are extremely challenging, this council’s failure to deliver on their last year’s forecast and their obsession to continue to borrow and waste money on unnecessary and useless projects has made a significant effect on their budgets going forward.
“This council currently owes £156m and intends to borrow more.”
He said money had been lost on the 2013 Illuminations Switch-On and the £1.3m scheme to purchase and demolish the former Syndicate nightclub.
Coun Williams added: “I am also desperately sorry for those who will be losing their jobs as part of this budget.
“However during the last three years this council has paid out nearly £1m in ‘gagging orders’ on top of regular redundancy payments which guarantees the silence of previous employees.
“You have to question why they did this and if that £1m could have saved some of the job losses now being announced.”
What will be protected?
• There will be no cuts to frontline social workers, and children’s social care will not be affected by any cutbacks.
• Libraries will be protected.
School crossing patrols will not be affected.
• Rideability, which operates a door-to-door bus service for housebound residents, is protected.
• The council’s social fund, which offers support to those most in need at times of crisis, will be retained.
• As previously reported in The Gazette, the free breakfast scheme for primary schools will continue at a cost of £1.3m.
What the union says...
Union leaders have reacted with dismay at the latest cuts.
Unison described the news as devastating for its many “hardworking” members and warned the council was being forced to run down its services which would have an impact on Blackpool’s most vulnerable residents.
Julia Orry, branch Secretary at Blackpool Council, said: “Unison is concerned that in Blackpool and elsewhere on current forecasts local government will be bankrupt within the next five years, and while Blackpool try to make ends meet with this year’s £25m cut in Government funding, the outcome is grim.”
Maria Moss, regional organiser for Unison, said “We are seeing the decimation of local authorities by this Coalition Government, removing their ability to provide vital services.
“This shows the current Government do not and never have, cared about people or communities, especially here in Blackpool.
“Local government has been hit by a quarter of all of the public sector cuts put in place by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.”
It is hoped to keep the number of compulsory redundancies to a minimum, and the council is offering people an incentive of £3,000 in addition to their standard redundancy payment in order to volunteer.
Last year there was an incentive of £5,000.
Savings will also be made though staff volunteering to take five days unpaid leave.
The services which could be affected
• Savings will be sought in street cleaning, highways maintenance, parks and catering which will result in job losses.
• Additional income will be sought from activities at Moor Park leisure centre and from the Stanley Park high ropes course.
• There will be a review of the arts and heritage spend, which could include grants paid to the Grand Theatre.
Options for the future of the Grundy Art Gallery (pictured) will be explored which could include handing it over to a charitable trust in the future which would have more access to grants.
Parts of the Illuminations could be effectively privatised by out-sourcing some of the work. There will also be more expectation to raise revenue. The council is awaiting the outcome of a bid for £2m from the Coastal Communities Fund towards new features for the Illuminations.
• Reduced events budget for VisitBlackpool may see some events scaled back. Showzam! has already been transferred to Left Coast, an Arts Council funded organisation.
The council says it will look at “delivering services differently” in areas including day service, respite services, supported living, care at home and residential services.
• Savings will also be made by a review of integrated health and social care services.
• Area forum grants will be axed - currently each of the seven area forums receives £7,500 each to hand out to community projects.