Suffolk council workers jobs fears

THOUSANDS of jobs could either be lost at Suffolk County Council or transferred to other bodies as the authority prepares for one of the most turbulent periods in its history.

THOUSANDS of jobs could either be lost at Suffolk County Council or transferred to other bodies as the authority prepares for one of the most turbulent periods in its history.

The warning came as one long serving council chief predicted that life over the next six years could prove to be 'tougher than the Thatcher era'' for local authority staff.

This year's budgets, which were agreed last month and will result in council tax bills going up by about 2.4pc from April, were the last to be based on a three-year settlement agreed in 2007 before the economic downturn.

Now local government is set to be at the vanguard of cuts to public expenditure - with councils across the country fearing their budgets could be slashed by up to a third over the next six years.

Deputy council leader Jane Storey and head of strategic finance Geoff Dobson warned this would radically change the way the county operated.

Some services - especially among those caring for vulnerable children or adults - could be taken over by other bodies such as charitable organisations.

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Other services that are not seen as central to the county council could also be transferred to other bodies.

Mrs Storey said: 'It might be that we can no longer justify having an archaeological service - or our country parks could be transferred to a parish council or someone like the Forestry Commission.

'We have to face up to the fact that we cannot carry on doing things in exactly the same way as we have in the past.'

Mr Dobson has worked in government for more than 30 years and is preparing for the most turbulent period in his career.

'The changes that are going to happen to local government are going to be very tough for many people - it will be tougher than the Thatcher era and that is saying something.'

Jobs in schools are not so seriously affected by the squeeze as they are now directly funded by Whitehall.

According to latest County Hall figures, there are now 6,380 full-time employees in non-schools jobs. If a third of those jobs were lost or transferred, the number of county employees would fall by more than 2,100.

Opposition leader Kathy Pollard said the demands on council services would intensify as the population got older.

She said: 'We know things are going to get very tough but demand will go up as well as the population gets older and more frail old people need council support.

'We've got the government talking about free social care and then not providing the funding - there are real problems looming for the county council.

'It is all very well to talk about working with the voluntary sector, but there has to be fall back of help from the authority itself.'

Members of staff union Unison are following the developments with serious concern.

A spokeswoman for UNISON said: 'For the year ahead Suffolk County Council will receive an inflation-busting 4% increase in its funding from Government.

'For it then to turn round and say that it needs to make such swingeing cuts to both the workforce and to local services just doesn't add up.

'The economic situation is already worrying for local people without the threat of job and service losses hanging over them. The county council has both healthy reserves and has made savings in recent times.

'To place jobs and services at risk shows that, yet again, it is council staff and local people who use services who will bear the brunt of these decisions. Cutting the workforce by a third would be a disaster in Suffolk for our members and for its impact on the local economy.'