THE leader of the Labour group in Southampton has revealed that up to 1,500 jobs would need to be axed to balance the council books.

But Cllr Richard Williams has pledged his party would try to find alternatives if they seized power from the Tories.

He said the massive job cuts would be needed over the next four years whether there were pay cuts or not and condemned strikes by unions as not the way to settle a bitter seven-week dispute.

But Southampton City Council leader Cllr Royston Smith told the Daily Echo that these figures were “wildly exaggerated” and accused the Labour leader of scaremongering.

Cllr Williams blamed local government funding cuts of 27 per cent over the next four years and said Labour group strategists in Southampton were planning a much leaner council.

Tory council leaders claim that the council faces a choice between the controversial pay cuts, due to come into force tomorrow, or 400 job cuts over the next two years.

Council staff have been threatened with dismissal if they don't sign up to new contracts by tomorrow cutting their pay by up to 5.5 per cent. The council says 94 per cent of staff have already signed.

About 600 council workers will walk out on strike from tomorrow on what unions have dubbed "Armegeddon Day".

Cllr Williams said that after conversations with the chief executive, up to 1,500 job losses may be needed to plug a budget black hole over the next four years that council finance chiefs revealed this week had grown from £65m to at least £75m.

He said: “I’ve been very clear to the unions. There will be redundancies. If there is a change of administration there will be less people working for the council than today.”

He said while he opposed the “attack on staff terms and conditions” he added: “We’ve never supported the strike action.

“I don’t think strike action is the way forward. The staff suffer and the public suffer.”

He suggested a pay freeze and reduced hours in the short term could buy time to negotiate a settlement while structural changes were needed to the council in the longer term.

Cllr Williams said a council tax discount for pensioners, worth nearly £1m, would be scrapped, while more services could be merged with other councils on a “large scale” to cuts costs.

Other council departments such as communications could see its budget slashed or be merged with the fire, police or health service, he said, to create a Hampshire wide local authority PR team.

And he said he would explore how the council could generate new income, possibly through a commercial trading arm.

Cllr Smith said: “We always knew that if Labour were running the council they would cut hundreds, if not thousands of jobs and now we have it confirmed.

“His figures are wildly exaggerated and bear no resemblance to anything I have heard from the chief executive, and I have had many more meeting’s with him.”

Cllr Williams’ comments have been met with disappointment from Andy Straker, Unison regional organiser.

He said: “I am extremely disappointed by his reaction.

“If this is what he is planning on doing I would have thought he would be trying to sit down with the unions, discussing how to make these cuts, rather than doing what the Tories are doing and telling us what is happening and expect us to accept it.

“This is not the way forward.

“We won’t put up with another party replacing another who will tell our members what they are going to do.

“I am disappointed that he doesn’t support the strikes, what would his answer be for us to do, roll over and take it? We won’t do that and we never will, no matter who is running the council.”