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Lancashire County Council weighs up job cut proposals

John Freeman
Lancashire County councillors will meet to agree how to approach making significant reductions to the authority's workforce, in response to the latest Government funding cuts.

The council expects to have to save around £300m from its annual budget in the next four years and is striving to avoid making compulsory redundancies.

However, a proposal going to the council's Cabinet next week (Friday 24th January) would see workers encouraged to apply for voluntary redundancy, with a view to reducing the workforce by around 2,500 full time posts by April 2016.

"This is the harsh reality of the cuts being imposed by Government, as we seek to find £300m savings on top of the £220m the council has saved over the last three years," explained Leader of the council Jennifer Mein.

"The council simply cannot make these savings without significant reductions both in the services it provides to local communities and in the number of people it employs to deliver those services.

"These are decisions we would rather not have to make, but I am determined to lead the council through this period in a way that makes the changes as fair as possible to the public and employees alike.

"That includes giving the people who work here a clear understanding of where we're going and doing everything we can to avoid compulsory redundancies.

"My hope is that enough people will choose to go on a voluntary basis and our proposed approach has that outcome in mind."

The proposal being considered by councillors would see around 2,500 posts go by April 2016, by which time the council would be reshaped to operate with a considerably smaller budget.

It takes account both of the existing budget proposals for 2014-15 and the impact on staffing levels of the further funding cuts expected in 2015-18, the details of which will form a three-year budget strategy to be agreed next year.

The county council employs around 34,500 people but, with the majority of those jobs funded through the ring-fenced schools budget, the cuts affect its non-schools workforce of around 13,000.

Deputy Leader and portfolio holder for finance, County Councillor David Borrow, explained: "We're currently consulting over our budget plan for 2014-15 and will spend much of the next 12 months having a transparent discussion about how services will change in the three years that follow.

"But we already know enough about the Government's spending plans to realise it will have a big impact on the number of people we can employ.

"We're being open, honest and proactive in our approa! ch by explaining these changes to our employees and proposing terms for voluntary redundancy that the council can afford during what will be an incredibly challenging period.

"Our priorities will remain to protect vulnerable people and promote economic growth, but there is no doubt this will be a very different and much smaller organisation in a few years' time."

Councillors will be asked to agree to set the terms for voluntary redundancy at reduced levels for future years, in order that the council can afford for sufficient numbers of people to leave on a voluntary basis.

Employees will be able to apply to leave on the current terms for voluntary redundancy up until the end of March this year.

The need to save £300m over the four years from 2014 to 2018 reflects big cuts in funding from the Government, together with the need to offset inflation and account for increased demand from an ageing population. The savings equate to around 40% of the council's current non-schools budget.