Page last updated at 17:29 GMT, Monday, 1 March 2010
Threat to '25,000 council jobs'



By Paul Deal
BBC News

Council workers protest against proposed cuts at Birmingham City Council
Workers could find themselves out in the cold as councils cut budgets

At least 25,000 council jobs in England will be under threat in the next three to five years, a BBC survey suggests.

The forecast is based on answers from 49 councils with a combined workforce of 256,000, suggesting cuts of 10%.

If all councils in England cut staffing by 10%, 180,000 posts would go, BBC home editor Mark Easton says.

Libraries and nurseries are among those facing cuts. But PM Gordon Brown said while there was a need for efficiency savings, services need not suffer.

One union has reacted to the survey's findings by warning of "social disharmony" and conflict between councils and workers.

Mark Easton
Restricting council biscuits and street lighting are gestures in what looks certain to be a dark period of rationalisation and savings
Mark Easton
BBC's home editor

Councils across the UK say jobs and services will have to be cut if, as they expect, funding from central government is reduced.

More than 70% of councils in England that responded to the survey predicted spending cuts of between 5% and 20%.

Roads, libraries, the arts and leisure appear most at risk of cutbacks. Children's social services, services for the homeless and planning appear to be safest.

The Local Government Association, which represents English and Welsh local authorities, said town halls had been battling the effects of recession for more than a year.

"Sources of income have dropped sharply at a time when more and more people are turning to councils to help them through tough times," said chairman Dame Margaret Eaton.

LOCAL SPENDING MAPPED
Map of council spending

"Low interest rates mean councils are much less able to rely on their savings, plummeting house and land prices have hit hard and income from leisure centres and a range of other services has fallen."

She said tough decisions would have to be taken, but "councils will do everything they can" to protect front-line services.

Speaking to BBC Radio Berkshire, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: "We've given an extra 40% to local councils in the last 10 years.

"The availability of funding has gone up by 4% this year.

"I think what we've done has created the foundation in which local authorities can do the things that they need to do, including front-line policing which I've been talking about today.

"And they're able to make efficiency savings in the way they do things, just like central government has had to make savings.

"So I don't accept these figures. What I do believe is that local authorities will be in a position to make the efficiency savings that central government will make."

Many of the councils that responded to the BBC survey were reluctant to forecast job losses.

But eight authorities - Kirklees, Leeds, City of Bradford, Sheffield, Stoke-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and Surrey - said 1,000 or more posts might be lost within five years.

Birmingham City Council, which did not respond to the survey, is planning savings of £69m in the next financial year, which could mean the loss of up to 2,000 jobs.

Shropshire Council has also said it is planning to cut more than 1,000 posts over the coming years.

Change in local government spending

Tony Travers, of the London School of Economics, said: "Nothing like this has happened for a generation."

FROM THE TODAY PROGRAMME

He believed 25,000 job losses in England was a cautious forecast.

Speaking on Today on BBC Radio 4, Mr Travers said: "For myself I'd be amazed if it was that low. I think it'll be much higher. It could be as high as 100,000."

Dave Prentis, general secretary of the union Unison, said big job losses could cause "social disharmony" in inner cities and conflict between councils and workers.

He said: "The government has spent vast amounts bailing out the banks.

"We always feared that, to offset the cost, they would come for public service jobs. We will not allow our members to pay the price."

He insisted there was an alternative if councils dipped into their reserves, people paid "a little more tax" and the government closed tax loopholes.

Mr Prentis said: "Care is already in crisis. Some councils want to halve the number of care homes, others will follow suit. We'll go from crisis to disaster. Our communities will suffer, vulnerable people will suffer."

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: "Councils that use the recession as an excuse to make swingeing and self-defeating cuts to vital services... will face a backlash from the millions of people who use them every day.

"Focusing on growth to get the country back on track is just as important in local government as it is in Whitehall."

'Big challenge'

Communities Secretary John Denham told BBC Radio 5 live that councils that were cutting spending in the present financial year could not blame a reduction in government funding.

John Denham: "Councils should be able to protect and improve front-line services"

A Conservative government would bring in a one-year pay freeze across the public sector for everyone earning more than £18,000 a year, the shadow communities secretary, Caroline Spelman, told BBC Breakfast.

She estimated that the move could save 100,000 jobs.

Julia Goldsworthy, who speaks on local government for the Liberal Democrats, called on ministers to "come clean" about cuts to council funding.

Graph showing income and expenditure

She said: "Three-quarters of council money comes from government grants. John Denham's attempt to wash his hands of blame is outrageous."

The councils are budgeting for an average 2.5% increase in revenue spending - covering running costs rather than capital projects - in the year from April.

But that is a sharp drop on the average 5.3% rise in 2008/09.

In examples of cuts around the country, in Newcastle a homeless hostel says it is having to turn away four out of five people who come asking for a bed because it does not have the funding to look after them all. Its council grant has been frozen.

Nottinghamshire County Council is selling 13 care homes. It says the money saved will be used to provide supported housing for older people. The county is reviewing its community transport schemes.

Areas vulnerable to cuts highlighted

Leicestershire County Council is planning big cuts in grants to community groups. A community centre in Hinckley, which has 3,000 visitors a week - ranging from pre-school children to 90-year-old lunch club members - fears it might have to close. Library hours are being reduced at Thurrock in Essex.

The survey was sent to 150 chief executives of county and unitary councils and metropolitan and London boroughs. District councils were excluded.

Ninety-three councils responded, giving an overall response rate of 62%, although a lower number chose to answer certain questions.

The survey asked councils to exclude schools from their forecasts because they are funded by direct government grants.


Facing the cuts logo
The BBC's survey drew responses from 93 councils across England
[351 KB]

Every BBC local radio station in England broadcast a live one-hour debate on the issue of council budgets on Monday:





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