AROUND 300 council jobs are to be axed as the recession continues to bite.
North Tyneside Council, one of the biggest employers in the region, is asking for voluntary redundancies, but says if not enough people are willing to leave, it may make compulsory pay-offs.
In a letter sent to all staff members, chief executive Andrew Kerr said the authority needs to make extensive savings to help it deliver better services.
The council says the jobs of frontline workers are to be protected, but unions say services would suffer as a result of the redundancies. It is also uncertain whether staff will receive a pay rise this year.
The plans have been attacked by the borough’s opposition Labour group who claim up to 600 jobs from the 7,500 workforce could be under threat.
In his letter, Mr Kerr said the authority’s Value for Money programme must secure savings of at least £104m over the next four and a half years. The proposals include reducing costs and making services more effective by improving management structures and making organisational changes. He added: “Councils cannot detach themselves from the world we live in or fail to recognise the impact on our communities of the current recession.
“We probably all know friends and neighbours, from beyond local government, who are losing their jobs or having to take pay cuts or simply having problems with paying the mortgage.
“We know this is not a good time to be facing this, but if we do not sort out these issues now, it will simply defer difficult decisions, not for years but for months, and make them even worse.”
Coun Jim Allan, Labour group leader, said: “These plans reveal the true nature of the new mayor’s plans. Previous mayor John Harrison set out plans to achieve efficiency savings in the current budget, but the Tories have gone much further and decided that the workforce will bear the brunt of efficiency savings.
“We believe that 300 jobs quoted by the council merely scratches the surface. If Mayor Linda Arkley is to keep to her promise of 0% council tax year on year, more than 600 will lose their jobs. I am sure the 7,500 employees of North Tyneside and their families will view these savage cuts at this difficult time as a stab in the back from a Tory administration.”
A council spokesman said it was not immune from what is going on in the economy or in the communities it serves. “As the mayor has indicated, we need to respond to difficult times,” he said. “We cannot allow our communities to face poorer services and higher costs. We will ensure we avoid that.
“Although times have changed, employment in local government remains relatively secure, we still have final salary pensions and, compared with many, our working conditions are good. As the letter to staff makes clear, the changes being made are part of a wider programme of work, which has been ongoing for more than three years and has been inherited by the current mayor.
“The changes are largely driven by this ongoing programme designed to make us more cost efficient - in a word cheaper - and to ensure that services become ever more focussed on our customers.”
Cyndy Hodgson, regional organiser with Unison, which has around 4,000 members at the council, said: “We are at the early stages of consultation. The number of redundancies is still uncertain. They are looking at between 250 and 350 and it will depend on how many people will come forward voluntarily.
“This is obviously demoralising for staff in North Tyneside. Our real concern is that there is bound to be an effect on service provision.
“It is difficult to see how there will not be an effect on services with the level of cuts being proposed.”
She added that Unison will work with the council on safeguarding jobs and the provision of services.