Council staff braced for job cuts

By John HowardSTAFF at a Suffolk council have been warned there might have to be job cuts as it tackles a predicted budget shortfall of more than £500,000.

By John Howard

STAFF at a Suffolk council have been warned there might have to be job cuts as it tackles a predicted budget shortfall of more than £500,000.

Mid Suffolk District Council chief executive, Andrew Good, has written to its 380 employees outlining the tough financial predicament it faces.

It is one of many local authorities in East Anglia that is wrestling with its finances in an effort to keep the rise in Council Tax bills as low as possible.

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Babergh and Suffolk Coastal District Councils have been considering introducing car parking charges as a way of generating more revenue to compensate for the impact of a low Council Tax rise.

In the internal memo, leaked to the East Anglian Daily Times, Mr Good said Mid Suffolk District Council was forecasting a budget gap of £1.01million, assuming a 3% rise in the Council Tax and a 5% grant from the Government.

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He explained the shortfall was due to a number of reasons, including pension fund contributions, pay awards and early retirements on ill-health grounds.

Mr Good said it planned to close the budget gap by using some of its reserves and generating savings of £470,000 by not filling some vacancies at the council's leisure centre, reducing grants and increasing car park income.

He added that would leave a forecast budget shortfall of more than £500,000 and outlined in his memo how the books could be balanced.

“Officers have to present proposals to councillors that will eliminate or reduce the shortfall,” said Mr Good.

“With the opportunities for non-pay savings having been largely exhausted in recent years, this will probably mean reducing the number of people we employ.

“We spend about 70% of our budget on pay, so, in common with many councils and organisations, we have to scrutinise this aspect of our expenditure.

“To begin with, we will continue to examine all vacancies and will look for ways of reducing the pay bill that cause the least damage to services and anxiety to staff.”

The council's executive director, Nigel Smithson, said it would not be able to finalise its budget for the next financial year until mid-December, when the Government confirmed the amount it would give the authority.

“It is likely that this grant will be modest, leaving finances very tight. The council's aims are to keep to a minimum any increase in Council Tax, balance the budget and ensure that residents continue to receive improving services,” he added.

“With tough decisions to make, senior management have been rigorously examining council operations for greater efficiency and cost savings.

“As with other councils, pay accounts for about 70% of Mid Suffolk's budget. This has to be included in the evaluation.

“Staff are being kept abreast of developments, although no firm news will be available until the central grant is set.”

Stuart Davey, Unison chairman at the council, said staff were worried by the uncertainty.

He added it came at a time when the council has been looking at moving to a new salary scheme, which focuses on performance rather than awarding increments for long service.

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