600 jobs to go in council cuts

Council leader Marie Rimmer
Council leader Marie Rimmer
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SIX hundred jobs are being axed as part of tough council cost-cutting measures unveiled last week.

Town Hall chiefs hailed their budget as “gravity defying”, saying that, despite having to meet tough Government cuts, frontline services would be protected.

St Helens Town Hall

St Helens Town Hall

A council spokeswoman said 600 jobs were being axed following the loss of a £12.2m Area Based Grant from central Government, but denied any core council jobs were affected.

However, further funding reductions in the next couple of years could put more jobs at risk.

Councillors met last Wednesday night to vote on a historic budget which sought to maintain services while dealing with the consequences of a £28m overall grant loss from Westminster.

The cuts equate to £158 for every man, woman and child across the borough, but council tax will be frozen.

The council spokeswoman said that councillors and senior officers had “left no stone unturned” in the search for savings as the authority grappled with “the most severe settlement from the Government in its history”.

Council leader Marie Rimmer said: “This is a gravity defying budget which puts the people of St Helens first. It helps the most vulnerable in our borough, supports the local economy, maintains value for money services and offers help to improve the life chances of our young people.

“However, this budget has not been set without pain. As the government axed our Area Based Grant, which provided services to our more deprived areas, we have had to lose jobs and make reductions in the money we spend on roads, schools and housing.

“However, most of the job losses have been achieved by not filling posts, early retirement and voluntary redundancies.”

Former council leader Brian Spencer, the local Lib Dem leader, said his party would keep a close eye on the Labour administration, arguing that, with spending cuts, “the devil is in the detail”.

Coun Spencer said: “Two or three years ago, when our party was in control, we were warned about reductions and we planned for it by finding millions of pounds of efficiency savings. We all knew the cuts were coming. There had to be reductions in public expenditure.

“Some other councils used the Area Based Grant to top up their mainstream funding and are receiving a double whammy now it’s gone, but we didn’t do that because we knew the funding was temporary.”

Local Tory leader Wally Ashcroft added: “I voted for the budget because we agreed with virtually everything in it. Times are hard and cuts obviously have to be made. The pressure is coming onto councils to make economies and we should all work together.

“We’re lucky in St Helens that the council was left with very healthy accounts by the previous administration. But by working together we can achieve a lot more than we can by fighting.”

However, town centre councillor and former mayor John Beirne accused the Labour-run council of “hiding” the truth by failing to pinpoint where, when and how cuts in council services would be made.

“At last week’s full council meeting, the council leader claimed the £28m of cuts were necessary, but when I asked for a list of where, when and how these cuts would be made, nothing was forthcoming,” said Coun Beirne.