Significant job cuts planned at City Hall

Significant job losses at one of the region's largest councils are set to be rolled out as civic leaders confront the reality of the recession and grapple to stem an �8m black hole in the public purse.

Significant job losses at one of the region's largest councils are set to be rolled out as civic leaders confront the reality of the recession and grapple to stem an �8m black hole in the public purse.

Norwich City Council last night unveiled a timetable to overhaul the authority, which will see jobs go at City Hall and a shake-up in services across the board in order to get finances back under control and ride out the downturn.

But council chiefs promised residents that streets would be kept clean, the public would be kept safe, and the authority would not turn its back on those most in need during the recession.

However, they ruled out any new privatisation of services as a way out of the crisis - opting instead to work with other councils and existing private sector partners.

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The news comes as council leaders across Norfolk wrestle with the recession and the expected fall in government funding as Gordon Brown finally conceded cuts will be needed to get the nation's finances under control.

City Hall has been hit by a double whammy following the downturn, which has seen incomes plummet and demand shoot up for services, while the government's concessionary bus fares' scheme has cost the authority �2m.

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But they are not alone in wielding the axe. This week Tory-run Breckland Council leaders ordered 10pc cuts in spending in the next year and South Norfolk council unveiled a �2m cuts package after shedding 40 jobs and cutting services. Meanwhile Norfolk County Council has ordered a review of 600 managers' jobs, as the first wave of an overhaul aimed at saving �140m in the next three years.

And with no dramatic end to the recession in sight in the foreseeable future, that means the Labour-run city council needs to find more than �8m in savings - equal to around 15pc of its �70m turnover, or a third of its �24m revenue budget - if it is to stay afloat.

Council leader Steve Morphew said the authority faced a choice of responding in a 'creative and forward looking' way, making swingeing cuts, and hoping for and waiting for better times.

'While there are likely to be significant job losses in the council, we will do everything we can to minimise people being made redundant,' Mr Morphew said. 'The cost in financial and loss of expertise terms is too high.

'We will avoid front line service reductions in the services you value most; we will prioritise keeping the streets clean, making people feel safe in their homes and on the streets and helping people during the recession.

'Where there is no option other than to reduce services, the reductions will be done in ways that seek to protect those areas most in need of support.'

The council believes it has already identified a potential �7.2m in savings and last night the ruling executive agreed a timetable detailing how the overhaul will be managed. Some of the costs and impact on jobs were discussed behind closed doors because the authority has yet to agree the detailed numbers or balance between jobs and service cuts.

Staff will start to be consulted on any job losses from October alongside a public consultation setting out proposals for changes in service provision.

Detailed savings proposals will emerge on December 15 with a further three months of staff consultations before changes are put in place on April 1 2010.

But the executive did set out in public its broad approach and it agreed a �700,000 package focused on cuts in travel expenditure, printing and postage, external meetings and events, mobile phones, and agency staff - which could proceed immediately.

Officers believe they have found around �5.5m in efficiencies and better ways of working focused on neighbourhoods, renegotiating the Citycare and Steria contracts, and sharing services. But the rest will have to come in the form of either cuts in jobs and services, or price hikes.

Mr Morphew told councillors there would be no going back even if the recession were to suddenly end.

'Making the change is both radical as a response and will have radical consequences,' Mr Morphew added. 'Before the recession Norwich was on the cusp of realising the opportunities we had earned as a city to bring investment, prosperity and quality of life to our growing population. We now have the chance to lead the recovery and be at the forefront of a prosperous, sustainable and proud city.'

Green party leader Adrian Ramsay said wanted to look at the proposals in detail and was also seeking more information about a consultants report by Deloittes, which had run the rule over services, to glean how the executive had set its priorities.

'It's right that the majority of savings will be made behind the scenes, but what is clear is that there will be some difficult choices for the council to make,' he said. 'But I'm pleased that the option of privatising services has been ruled out.'

But Conservative group leader Antony Little asked why privatisation had already been ruled out and whether the council would follow the no frills 'easycouncil' model being put forward by Tory-run Barnet.

'Given the situation we are in, I'm surprised any option has been taken off the table,' Mr Little said.

While the Lib Dems Brian Watkins asked what guarantees the public would get the services would improve under the changes.

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