Colchester: Borough council prepare to axe jobs, close benefits office and cancel popular Tour Series cycling event as it looks to save £2 million
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Fresh job cuts at Colchester Borough Council are expected as it looks to make savings worth more than £2million for the next financial year.
The authority has outlined how it intends to shave £2.2m from its budget for 2014/15 and the plans are due to be discussed at a meeting of its cabinet later this month.
The review is in response to a reduction in funding from central government and members of the council believe they can account for £1.6m of the savings through “internal efficiency measures”.
This will involve a reorganisation of a number of areas, including sports and leisure services and corporate and financial management practices.
A saving of more than £1m is also expected to come from a review of the council’s customer contact strategy, which aims to encourage people to access more services online.
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It will also involve the closure of the authority’s Angel Court benefits office and see staff take up residence in the town’s library.
Other cost-saving proposals include scrapping the popular annual Tour Series cycling event through the centre of town to save £80,000.
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Council leader Anne Turrell (Liberal Democrat) said: “The current economic climate means that cabinet has to make difficult decisions to ensure the council’s financial future is sustainable.
“Where changes have had to be implemented, a real effort has been made to keep their impact to a minimum. We understand the economic pressures residents and businesses are currently under and we have tried hard to minimise the impact of next year’s budget. However it is still crucial that council responds to the significant 14% cut in government funding.”
Ms Turrell said the mooted changes would result in “a handful of job losses” and said she hoped these could found through voluntary redundancies.
Dennis Willetts, deputy leader of the Conservative opposition group, broadly welcomed the proposals.
He said: “We’ve been saying for a long time that these efficiencies should be made because Colchester Borough Council is grossly overstaffed compared with other councils.
“The council next to us, Braintree District Council, serves a population of 150,000 people and employs around 470 staff. In Colchester, the population is 180,000 but the borough council has 880 staff.
“Braintree has out-sourced some services, which slightly skews the figures, but it is still the case that the council can offer the same services but just run them more efficiently.”
But public services union Unison’s regional manager for Essex Margaret Lynch said there are concerns that services would be affected by the funding cuts.
She said: “Unison has been concerned about changes to the workforce at Colchester for a number of years where there has been reorganisations and privatisations.
“We will continue to engage with the local authority about any further job losses for our members.
“The situation is the same in local authorities across the region who have all seen a reduction in their grant from government.
“Our members fear services will suffer and that they will be unable offer the service to the public that they would like.”
Robert Oxley, Campaign Director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said councils, just like families and businesses, had to “tighten their belts”.
“But the focus for local authorities should be cutting waste and bureaucracy, not the services people rely on,” he said.
“Making better use of council buildings, especially libraries, is a practical way of ensuring the council is contactable while reducing unnecessary costs.
“But it’s vital these changes are thought through to avoid a costly U-turns at a later date. After a decade of being able to simply take more from people’s wallets, councils need to become smarter, leaner and more efficient.”