Thousands of people employed by Warwickshire County Council - including firefighters and health workers - are fearing for their futures as the council faces the challenge of saving £92 million.
Council leader Izzi Seccombe announced last Thursday that the council must make cuts to the value of the colossal sum between now and 2018 - and she conceded that up to 627 people will lose their jobs, on top of the 1,500 people who have already been made redundant in the most recent swathe of council cutbacks.
The council is also pushing to merge the county’s fire and rescue service with that of Hereford and Worcester, and although Cllr Les Caborn, responsible for policy on community safety, said that there were no plans for station closures, he was unable to rule out the possibility of that happening.
Speaking at a media briefing last Friday, Cllr Seccombe said: “What we are not looking to do is to tsunami cull all our areas.
“We need to protect the services that are particularly valued by the people of Warwickshire. We need to build jobs and security for the future of the people of Warwickshire.”
Cllr Seccombe said that since Chancellor George Osborne announced the Comprehensive Spending Review in June, council officials had estimated that the council would need to shave £90 million off its annual budget of £350 million and had already begun to make plans.
She said: “We want to have the chance to explain what we have been through, what savings we have made and what our plans are over the next four years.
“What we cannot do is promise we will be able to deliver on everyone’s needs. At the end of the day, we have to spend money on services that are in the interests of most people.”
Deputy council leader Cllr Alan Cockburn added: “There has been a lot of talk over the last few years saying that the public sector is too big and that we have got to live within our means. This is the consequences of those discussions.
“This is the chicken coming home to roost.
“People need to tell us how they want to see public services managed.”
Emphasising the importance of a series of public meetings to be rolled out across the county this autumn, Cllr Cockburn warned that decisions on cutbacks would ultimately lie with councillors and not residents.
He said: “We are a bit reluctant to use the word ‘consultation’. We want to know what the public’s views are.
“We have already saved £66 million and now all the easy options are gone. We are going to have to fundamentally change.”
To read more about the council’s budget and submit views on how changes should be made, visit www.warwickshire.gov.uk/shapingthefuture
• Council cutbacks: viewpoints
- Tony Rabaiotti, West Midlands head of local government for Unison, the union which represents many council employees:
“We have got to cut to the quick with Warwickshire County Council and make sure job losses are kept to a minimum.
“We are under no illusion that the reason that the county council is in this fix is because of the Government’s so-called ‘austerity’ measures.
“Frankly residents in Warwickshire would be pretty entitled to ask what on earth they are getting for their council tax.
“We have seen Warwickshire County Council cut jobs over the last few years and you wonder if there are any jobs left to cut.
“Council employees are very angry and upset. People will be cutting back on buying food. That will have a knock-on effect in the private sector and we will probably be going back into recession later this year.
“The county council needs to stand up to the Government and look very seriously at jobs that are going. It needs to face up to its responsibility.”
- Marcus Giles, secretary of the Warwickshire branch of the Fire Brigades Union:
“A merger with Hereford and Worcester will result in job losses and station closures.
“We have been told there will be between 12 and 18 per cent cuts in the fire service budget - that’s between £2.3 million and £3.2 million - so there will be job losses too.
“After the talks on a merger a few years ago, Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service underwent an “improvement” plan to make it what was being called a “leaner” and “fitter” service. Warwickshire now cannot afford to go any leaner or else the safety of the people will suffer.”
- Cllr Jerry Roodhouse, county council Lib Dem group leader:
“We need to engage with communities across Warwickshire and work together across political divides if we are to find the way forward to address this massive financial challenge which can command the widest possible understanding and support.
“In the critical areas of health and adult social services, the Lib Dems will be pushing for accelerated integration of NHS and council resources and budgets, with the new NHS Clinical commissioning groups stepping up to the mark and working seamlessly with the county council to deliver the best possible outcomes for vulnerable and dependent people.”
• Warwickshire in figures
There are 548,000 people living in Warwickshire.
15,820 children live in poverty.
4,393 residents aged over 75 receive social care.
39,144 children, young people and adults are registered as disabled or with special educational needs.
2.1 per cent of 16 to 64-year-olds are currently claiming unemployment benefits.
202 schools are managed by the county council.
15,000 people are employed by the county council, including staff at schools.