Hundreds of jobs at risk from more council cuts

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Hundreds of jobs are at risk as Falkirk Council battles to find a way to fill an expected £20 million hole in its finances next year.

Councillors have been warned that the equivalent of 228 full time posts could have to go as the town hall comes under increasing pressure to save money and balance the books.

Cash is going to be even tighter at Falkirk Council in the coming year

Cash is going to be even tighter at Falkirk Council in the coming year

In real terms, because of part time and job-share working arrangements in place, it is feared the reduction in numbers could be as high as 400.

That figure could be reduced by 65 if agreement with the unions on a new terms and conditions package is agreed.

Key to this deal is scrapping the ‘protection’ arrangement that pays around 1450 employees 37 hours pay for 35 hours work and costs around £1.5 million.

Ongoing talks are focussed on two options – continue to receive the same wage but work the extra two hours or work the 35 hours a week and take a pay cut.

The council has reduced its workforce by around seven per cent in the last two years using a number of methods including offering voluntary severance, deleting vacant posts, ending temporary contracts and suspending recruitment.

But there are fears this time round that compulsory redundances could be unavoidable to deliver the savings required and protect frontline services.

Members of the council’s executive were given the grim news when they met to consider the first set of budget savings proposals prepared by officers.

Children’s services, development services and corporate and housing services have all identified cuts worth nearly £11 million in 2017 - but at a cost of 163 full time equivalent posts.

The budgets provided by the council for the new Integration Joint Board for health and social care and Falkirk Community Trust are also under scrutiny.

Chief finance officer Bryan Smail said each service was set a target of cutting costs by 15 per cent and all were faced with very few options which were “painless”.

The council is expected to be told before Christmas what the local government settlement will be worth.

Between now and then officers will continue their ‘number crunching’ exercise and talks with the unions ahead of a further update in December.

Mr Smail told councillors: “We have to use the time available to get these savings options into play so that when members have to make these hard decisions they have all the information before them. The timetable is tight.”

Leader of the Labour-led administration Councillor Craig Martin said: “We have asked for comprehensive budget options to be brought forward at this stage to allow us to get the views of various groups and interested parties. Their responses will help us make informed decisions and help us prioritise by need.

“This funding gap has been largely caused by the anticipated further loss of Scottish Government grant at the same level as 2016/17.

“I have to stress that no decisions have been taken, but we know there are some very hard choices ahead for us to make and residents should be prepared.

“All these propsals have to be looked at very carefully and a full assessment of their impact undertaken.

“Massive savings have already been made, but the financial pressures over the past decade have still seen a budget gap of more than £108 million created. This means there are very few easy savings options left.”