THOUSANDS of county council staff in Hampshire are poised to ballot for industrial action after bosses moved to slash their motoring expenses.

Leaders of the union Unison are consulting employees who are affected by plans to cut back travel costs as part of a £800,000 efficiency drive.

It is the latest blow to staff at the council in recent weeks, after the Daily Echo revealed county bosses have rubber-stamped £93m of cuts which could see more than 1,000 jobs lost.

This will see those earning less than £17,000 have their rate cut from 59.3p per mile to the non taxable rate of 45p – the maximum tax-free rate recommended by the Inland Revenue.

Those earning up to £33,000 will see their rate cut from 53.5p to the tax free rate.

But unions say that reductions will hit hard-pressed workers such as carers and youth workers most because they use their own cars for their job, travelling hundreds of miles each year across one of the largest counties in England.

Recently, the county council confirmed 277 full-time jobs will be lost by the end of the next financial year, and that number could rocket to 1,000 over the next year.

Dozens of bus services and the historic Hythe ferry could be cut as the authority shaves 12 per cent off departments’ budgets over the next two years, while the county’s Community Safety Officers will also be axed.

About 8,000 county council staff will be affected in total by the cut in motoring expenses.

Unison, which says it represents most of them, is polling its members on whether to take industrial action, including strikes.

Branch secretary for Hampshire, Tim Cutter, said: “It is going to cost our members more than £100 each year at a time when they are already struggling and facing a national pay cut.

“The lower paid staff are also more likely to have older cars that are less efficient and are likely to have high maintenance.

“This will make it more difficult for staff to use their car and for the council to use their services.”

Mr Cutter said talks with the council, which has just passed a budget to save £93m, had proved futile, and called upon the council to dip into its £400m of reserves rather than penalising hardpressed staff. He said a ballot would be held within a month unless the council dropped its plans.

But the county council’s Tory administration says the cut will simply bring staff into line with the rate claimed in companies and councils across Britain.

Human resources chief Cllr Stephen Reid said: “Most other councils of similar size to Hampshire already reimburse their staff for business mileage at HMRC rates, and these proposed changes would therefore bring Hampshire into line with standard practice elsewhere.

“It could save around £800,000, and therefore help to protect jobs.”

Cllr Reid said in 2010 the county council had moved towards introducing the national “standard” by reducing mileage rates paid to higher graded staff.

The original proposal was to reduce the rate for all staff in one go, but the council decided against that at the time.

He added: “We are consulting on the proposed change and we will consider carefully the results of that consultation.”