70 job cuts planned as Blackpool Council forced to slash budget again

Blackpool Council will slash another £5.5m from its budget and axe up to 70 jobs as it is forced to reduce spending for another year.

Friday, 1st December 2017, 7:26 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 11:00 am
Job losses have been announced at Blackpool Council. Pictured is Blackpool Town Hall.

It means the town has seen around half a billion pounds stripped from its resources in the past six years.

But frontline services will be protected, with libraries, children’s centres and leisure centres unaffected.

The cuts will mainly be met through back office savings and more efficient procurement and commissioning.

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Staff will once more be asked to take five days unpaid leave which will save £1m, while £260,000 will be saved by stopping car user allowances.

This year’s budget is less harsh than recent years, with 150 jobs lost and savings of £18.7m made to make ends meet during the current financial year.

However the council is predicting more hardship next year with further cuts of £7.5m in 2019/20.

Council leader Coun Simon Blackburn said: “This year we have tried to protect front line services, as much as we possibly can, by looking at new and creative ways of saving money and generating income.

Coun Tony Williams

“However, the difficult reality is the budget proposals may result in a maximum of 50 redundancies with an additional 20 contract posts ending, although we expect the final figure to be lower. 

“This is nowhere near as many posts as have been lost in previous years, but that is no consolation to the hard-working staff that will be affected.” He said the council was in a ‘relatively strong financial position’ compared to other authorities because it ‘took difficult decisions early on’ and ‘invested heavily and boldly in the town’.

Cabinet secretary Coun Graham Cain said the council had worked hard to manage the cuts as best it could.

He said: “Half a billion pounds has been taken off the people of Blackpool over the last six years and that’s a staggering amount of money, due to central government.

“We have managed the situation and we are still investing in a new hotel, the Winter Gardens and an Imax cinema.

“And we are still protecting all our libraries and leisure centres, which are still open, and we are also investing in our parks.”

Over recent years the annual cost of children’s social care, totalling around £38m, has triggered over-spending due to the number of youngsters in council care.

At one stage this year the number of looked after children reached 542.

Coun Tony Williams

Council chief executive Neil Jack said measures were being taken to get the department’s spending under control.

He said: “We are expecting the numbers of looked after children to come down in the coming year.

“We are a deprived town but we can definitely bring the numbers down safely by working with families and providing support at the right time rather than waiting until there is a crisis.”

How will savings be made?

Savings made by:

• £2m by better money management, including taking advantage of low borrowing rates

• £900,000 through income generation including increases in fees and charges in line with inflation.

• £1.1m saved on procurement and commissioning, including reduced insurance claims due to investment in the roads through Project 30.

• £300,000 by reducing staffing in children’s social care as demand decreases due to fewer children in care.

• £1m through restructuring some departments such as public protection.

• £200,000 income generated from council owned companies including Blackpool Transport and the Sandcastle.

Reaction: ‘Further redundancies are sickening’

Dave Dickinson, branch secretary for Unison at Blackpool Council, said: “Although the £5.5m budget cut is lower than previous years, central government clearly hasn’t listened to local authorities’ requests for improved funding so the council is left to find further savings.

“Jobs will still be lost, workloads will increase further, and it is very likely staff will only be offered a below inflation pay increase of one per cent. This will mean a further reduction in living standards.

“Along with unpaid leave, which is another pay cut, and the government-imposed end to salary sacrifice schemes meaning increased car parking charges for staff, we are particularly disappointed by the decision to end essential car user allowance for all staff.

“I am sure those affected by this proposal will be angry as the allowance is paid to compensate them for wear and tear of their vehicle for use on council business.

“We will be consulting with our members over the next few weeks on our own proposal, which will aim to ensure those who use their vehicle on a daily basis retain the allowance.”

Conservative group leader Coun Tony Williams described further redundancies as ‘sickening’ and said not enough was being done to resolve social problems which put pressure on council spending.

He added: “All these social problems come with costs including the £20m per year we are spending on outside facilities to home the highest number of looked after children of any authority in the UK.

“We continue to spend over £3m per year on consultants and pay for trips to China and the USA without any apparent benefit.

“Our borrowing is totally out of control yet we continue to spend large amounts of grant funded money on follies and white elephants.

“This council continues to moan how badly this government treat them yet in last week’s full council meeting there were projects highlighted that were being funded directly or indirectly by £50m of government grants.”

Failure to invest would ‘condemn’ resort

Despite another year of cuts, council leader Coun Simon Blackburn said he would be forging ahead with the council’s ambitious investment programme.

He warned the town had to generate its own income instead of relying on ever reducing government handouts.

He said: “It is vital we remain forward thinking in this challenging environment. 

“As a council we have the ability to borrow money at a lower interest rate than others.

“We need to take this opportunity and use it to our advantage, both to invest in key infrastructure and help businesses in the town to expand whilst guaranteeing the council an income in future years.

“The only way that we can survive and create a town that is great to live and work in is by being entrepreneurial; investing in our infrastructure, people and businesses to generate our own income, instead of relying on reduced government grants.

“Look around our town and you will see big changes happening and it’s all about ‘making Blackpool Better’.

“Exciting projects include the extension of the tramway from North Pier to Blackpool North Station – the vast majority of which is being paid for by the government) – upgrading roads and creating modern streets, building a new 21st century conference centre and extending Houndshill Shopping Centre.

“Investing now is absolutely vital to create jobs, boost visitor numbers, drive the economy forward, and secure income for future generations.  

“Those who would refuse to carry out essential bridge repairs, highways improvements, public transport improvements and making sound financial investments in Blackpool businesses are not only short sighted, but are condemning the town to a downward spiral that would ultimately end in failure.”