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Conservatives may cut 100 jobs at Southampton City Council
COUNCIL bosses in Southampton are considering axing 100 jobs as part of a drive to fill a £12m budget blackhole.
Conservative council chiefs in the city are drawing up plans for the council's largest ever cuts The Tories say next year’s savings plan is needed to cope with the rising cost and demand for services in the recession.
But they insist important frontline services will be safe, despite the possibility of 100 jobs being cut.
Under the plans residents will be charged an extra £30 in council tax for an average Band D home – the authority’s lowest council tax rise at 2.5 per cent.
The gaping hole comes after the Conservatives approved a mid-year mini budget in July, axing 31 jobs and giving them £1.5m of savings from day one next year, including a controversial move to create a multi-skilled army of 55 civic enforcers dubbed “stormtroopers” by one councillor.
It also comes just ten months after council bosses axed a further 128 jobs and put the average Band D council tax up £39 to £1,213, a 3.3 per cent rise, in an £11m cuts package.
Despite the cuts council chiefs are also spending £85,000 a year on a powerful spin doctor to brush up the council’s image and sell the raft of cuts and “efficiencies” to affected groups.
Finance chiefs are planning a £185m budget, excluding schools, but they say falling income and the difference between the rising cost of services for which they will get a central government grant will leave them nearly £6m short, without raising council tax.
They complain income from parking has collapsed, and are now cutting parking charges by up to 50 per cent to lure back motorists, while the cost of supporting benefit applications has also shot up as thousands lose their jobs.
Extra costs include higher demand for foster carers, more social workers and children in care and more expensive learning disability packages.
Tories are spending an extra £800,000 on road maintenance, having to pay off borrowing to replace two-thirds of the city’s street lights and the project costs of rebuilding five secondary schools. They will also be continuing to give pensioner householders a ten per cent council tax discount at a cost of over £1m.
It will all result in a budget black hole of £12.1m.
Tories have warned “a light will be shone in all corners of the council to see where efficiencies can be made”.
But opposition Labour finance spokesman councillor Peter Marsh-Jenks said before all the figures were in, before Christmas at best, it was all “educated guesswork” and the sums did not justify “another Moulton meltdown”.
Finance boss Jeremy Moulton denied scare-mongering and said the figures were likely to get worse.
He claimed to have found £6m of “efficiencies” which won’t impact frontline services. They include paying private residential homes and care firms less, cutting back office staff and costs, and cutting highways insurance premiums. However, the full details are being kept secret.
A further £3m will be found by raiding reserves, giving staff a one per cent rather than two per cent rise, and clawing back more debt from council tax dodgers.
Summons notices will go up by £10 to £70.
It leaves £3m more to fund through sharp cuts.
Some cash will be saved by sending out council magazines fewer times each year, councillors’ allowances will be frozen, and the number of council meetings will be reduced from seven to four to cut the cost of “bureaucracy”.
However Councillor Moulton ruled out ending weekly bin collections, closing swimming pools, or charging for first residents’ parking permits.
He said: "We are working hard to keep deliver more for less, to make the city council more efficient and keep council tax as low as possible.
"At the same time time we are focused on protecting front line services and ensuring that we do all we can to look after the most vulnerable."
Tories are keeping the council tax rise below 2.5 per cent in line with a pledge that a Conservative government would give councils that did so extra cash from Whitehall to pay for a two-year freeze on bills.
Southampton’s Tory Cabinet will next Monday launch a consultation on the cuts which will be published in January.