Job losses expected as North Herts agrees budget cuts

COUNCIL workers face an anxious wait to find out whether their jobs will be axed as North Herts District Council (NHDC) agreed cuts totalling �2.879m to staffing over the next four years.

Yesterday’s Cabinet meeting (Tuesday) outlined staff efficiency proposals of �823,000 for this year’s budget to be met through redundancies, restructuring of senior management and other staff, not filling vacant posts and changing terms and conditions, with an announcement of where the axe will fall due in the coming weeks.

In total, �1.976m in savings were agreed by Cabinet to balance NHDC’s books for this year, with contentious issues such as cutting the number of public toilets, reducing the number of recycling banks in rural areas, cutting town centre and play area maintenance and removing funding for the Youth Development budget all approved.

The Cabinet also confirmed there will be increased charges for burials and the interment of ashes, leisure facilities, and a 10 per cent hike in car park season tickets.

NHDC will also introduce charges in appropriate car parks for evenings and Bank/Public Holidays, with proposed fees of 50p for three hours and �1 for over three hours.

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Over the next four years the cuts will total �8.790m, with �1.152m of that figure still to find, even if the immediate target for 2011-12 is met.

Cllr Lynda Needham, leader of the council, said: “Like most other authorities we obviously knew it (the reduction in Government funding) was going to be between 26 and 28 per cent. But what we were very disappointed in was that we were not expecting it to be front-loaded.

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“Is it going to be tough? Yes of course it is, especially when we’ve spent the last four years making efficiences anyway. Protecting front-line services - that is our number one priority but that’s difficult when the Government tells us it (the efficiency target) is provisional for years three and four.”

On the cuts to the staff budget, Cllr Needham added: “The unprecedented nature of the financial challenges we face mean that we have had to scrutinise every penny of our expenditure and this includes staffing costs.

“NHDC has a Reorganisation Policy that includes measures to minimise the need for compulsory redundancies such as not filling vacant posts and retraining and redeploying people. We will of course be consulting with staff before making any changes public.”

Labour Cllr Judi Billing said: “The cuts to the maintenance of play areas could be very damaging indeed and town centres, as what the town centre feels like to people is very important so that’s a huge worry.

“I’m also concerned about cuts to voluntary organisations and the most vulnerable in society, as well as the doubling over four years of permit parking.”

The draft budget is due to be ratified at full council on February 10.

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