Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Council Merger to Threaten 700 Jobs; New Unitary Body Must Make Savings

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Council Merger to Threaten 700 Jobs; New Unitary Body Must Make Savings

Article excerpt

Byline: Dave Black

AROUND 700 council jobs could be axed in Northumberland under major budget cuts required as part of the radical switch to unitary local government next year, the county's top town hall official said yesterday.

Steve Stewart, the new chief executive of the current Northumberland County Council, said he expects fewer than 1,000 redundancies will be required, and suggested a figure of around 600 to 700 will not be wide of the mark.

He dismissed recent fears of between 1,900 and 3,000 job losses as "complete rubbish", claiming it is one of the "myths" which have sprung up around the introduction of the new all-purpose super council in April.

He also firmly rejected recent claims that it will cost millions to change the name - once agreed - of the new authority from Northumberland County Council, saying the exercise will only cost "a few thousand pounds".

Mr Stewart - who has been in post for two months and is spearheading the massive task of bringing together the county council and six districts to create the new unitary authority - spoke out yesterday in a bid to dispel what he claims are a number of myths about the reforms.

He admitted that the changeover is difficult, both politically and financially, and has caused serious divisions within the county. But he said the unitary council will be made to work, and offers exciting potential for new methods of delivering local services and engaging communities.

Mr Stewart said the new authority will have to find budget savings of pounds 55m in its first three years, and as 80% of local government costs are tied up in staff, significant redundancies are inevitable from the 7,000-strong combined workforce of the county and six districts. So far, 800 employees have expressed interest in taking voluntary redundancy, and these are now being matched against the likely budget requirements in 2009/10. He said there will be a need for compulsory redundancies if insufficient volunteers are approved.

Mr Stewart said significant reductions are already being made in senior and middle management posts, including a pounds 1m saving in reducing the number of chief executives from seven to one. …

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