Fears for council jobs and services

HUNDREDS more jobs could go and frontline services could be hit if Essex County Council presses on with its target of making £100million in savings, it has been claimed.

By Roddy Ashworth

HUNDREDS more jobs could go and frontline services could be hit if Essex County Council presses on with its target of making £100million in savings, it has been claimed.

But last night Lord Hanningfield, leader of the county council, insisted that any cash saved during the current modernisation drive would be ploughed back into improving frontline services that directly affected the people of Essex.

He confirmed there would be job losses in “backroom” departments as the council attempted to reduce bureaucracy and streamline its operations.

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The council's cabinet was yesterday presented with a report on the authority's ongoing plans for efficiency savings.

After working with consultants KPMG and BT, a series of reviews have been held showing how the council can improve its performance, including enabling the public to access services in a convenient but more cost-effective way and streamlining human resources processes.

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But the Labour group leader at the council, Paul Kirkman, said that he believed there was a real danger that services could suffer if staff levels were cut to help meet the target of £100m in savings over three years.

“Most of the money local authorities spend is on salaries. If you are talking about saving money you are talking about job losses.

“There are always economies to be made. Essex County Council spends £1.5 billion a year. If you want to save £100m you can.

“£100m is a lot of jobs. If your average salary is £30,000 you are talking hundreds.”

He added: “I am concerned there will be service cuts. You can make efficiency cuts - for example, refusing to take cash payments, which is an expensive thing to do.

“But some members of the public want to make payments in cash, which is why we do it. We could save £1.5 billion and not provide any service at all - these things can be a false economy.”

And Andrew Coburn, president of Essex's Unison branch, said: “We are concerned about our members' jobs and the services.

“In terms of the services, we are concerned about out-sourcing because our experience has not been good over the years.

“We know that over 100 jobs are going to go and I wouldn't be surprised if there are more.

“They talk of 'partnerships' but in fact that means putting roles in the private or even voluntary sector.”

Mr Coburn, who is also the secretary of the county council's joint union steering team, said: “They try and say the frontline services will continue but often the frontline needs the back office, which is where they are targeting.

“We are concerned for members of staff both in terms of job losses but also morale. Morale is right down at the moment.”

But yesterday Lord Hanningfield said he felt concerns about frontline services were misplaced.

However, he confirmed there would be further job cuts. He added that around 50 posts had already been made redundant in the first part of the review.

“We are not going to reduce our budget by £100 million. We want to put that money into frontline services,” he said.

“There will be jobs going in the processes area - people looking at invoices, for example.

“A lot will be done by not filling vacancies. The backroom of local government is very big indeed.

“One person currently managing four people might instead have to manage six. We want to streamline the way we operate.

“I've likened the council to a ship that has gathered barnacles over the years. Every time there is new legislation we increase what we do.

“We are currently spending so much money on backroom services and we are trying to reduce bureaucracy.”

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