COST-cutting council chiefs in Southampton spent almost £3,000 on a weekend away - to work out how to axe jobs and save cash.

The 18-strong team travelled to a Hampshire management centre earlier this month to thrash out ways to make better use of the city's coffers.

The Daily Echo revealed this week that 135 jobs are to be axed from the city council and council tax bills likely to rise by at least 9.9 per cent.

Among the proposed cuts are scrapping Christmas lights, reducing grass cutting at cemeteries, cutting grants to voluntary groups and even scrapping mayoral buffets.

Union leaders are warning strike action could be on the cards over the proposals and said some staff could face an annual wage reduction of £1,000.

To come up with the plans, Cabinet members and senior officers travelled to the New Place Management Centre in Shirrell Heath, near Fareham, earlier this month.

And while some decided to go home on the Saturday and return the next day, others opted to make use of the hotel facilities and stay the night.

The cost of the booking, coffee and meals ran to £2,867. Attractions at the 110-bedroom venue include a sauna, indoor pool, spa bath, gymnasium, croquet facilities, a cricket pitch and an off-road safari arena.

Councillor John Hannides, deputy leader of the Tory group at the council, said: "It seems the people of Southampton are being taken for a ride by them. They need to get their priorities straight."

Council leader councillor June Bridle said many councillors, who had full-time jobs in the week, gave up their entire weekend in order to meet together.

"I would like to know how many opposition members would do the same thing," she said.

Civic leaders are set to axe more than 130 posts and make savings of around £7m to ward off a budget crisis.

But trade union leaders claim the measures would have a devastating effect on workers.

They have called a meeting in a month's time to discuss the proposals and warned industrial action could take place in the new year.

The plans include scrapping car allowances, increasing parking charges for hundreds of workers and bringing in private partners to help run leisure centres.

Mike Tucker, Southampton branch secretary of Unison, said: "If the proposals are still being put forward at that stage, then there is the strong likelihood of moving towards a strike ballot.

"Obviously quite a lot of people are shell-shocked at the moment about what has happened.

"The changes to car allowances and increases in parking could mean the equivalent of a £1,000 cut in pay for some people."

Hundreds of council workers staged a walk-out in the summer as part of a national dispute over low pay.

Civic leaders claimed their proposed cutbacks, which will be debated by councillors in the coming months before going to a budget-making meeting in February, have been caused by external pressures.

They said they were facing huge increases in national insurance contributions and insurance premiums as well as the government funding reductions being faced by local authorities in the south.

Councillor George Melrose, leader of the Liberal group, said departments at the council were already struggling to cope because of understaffing.

Councillor Peter Wakeford, deputy leader of the Lib Dem party, said he was particularly concerned at the budget reduction in the leisure department, which faces a £1.2m cut.

IF YOU think that residents in Southampton are facing huge council tax rises then try living on the Isle of Wight.

Householders are facing a massive THIRTY-SEVEN per cent increase if government cutbacks are given the go-ahead.

In a worst case scenario, a person paying an average Band D council tax of around £981 could see their bill rise by £366 a year.

Currently, the Island's support grant from central government runs to nearly £48.5m.

But government plans to slash ten per cent from the grant would leave Islanders to pick up the shortfall.