500 Jobs To Go At County Council

Budget savings totalling more than £31.1million have been approved by Dorset County Council for 2011/12.

Reductions in spending on school crossing patrols, road maintenance in rural areas, some youth services and passenger transport - plus major reviews of the existing library service and day car services - will all go ahead over the next year to ensure the council can balance its books.

But to minimise impacts on the public, around two-thirds of the savings will be found through efficiencies and back-office spending reductions, rather than through frontline public services, and the county council's council tax bill will be frozen this year.

And council leader Angus Campbell called for greater partnership with local communities and the voluntary sector to help support and maintain popular services which can no longer be funded by local authority money.

In his budget speech delivered to full council yesterday (Thursday, 17 February), Mr Campbell pointed out that Dorset had lost around £18m in combined Government grants for 2011/12 - a fall of 23 per cent.

He said:

"This is the harshest local government settlement in living memory. We have had to work very hard and fast in our drive towards a balanced budget.

"The task we face is not of our making, the demands extraordinary and the aim – to do our share in getting our country back on its financial feet whilst, at the same time, revolutionising our delivery of local government – a tall order. The scale of the cut's is without precedent."

Mr Campbell said he had personally lobbied Secretary of State Eric Pickles for more flexibility in finding the savings over four years, but that such freedom was "not forthcoming".

Mr Campbell explained that, such was the scale of savings required in the first year alone, some frontline services would inevitably be affected. But he added:

"Around two-thirds of the proposed savings are to be found in efficiency and back-office savings, including the effects of a two-year pay freeze for all staff and changes to their terms and conditions. There will also be a ten per cent reduction in senior management costs across the council.

"Dorset County Council is only as good as its staff. It is a matter of particular regret to me that the extraordinary financial situation imposed upon us is making life so difficult and uncertain for many."

While acknowledging the contentious nature of some of the proposed savings such as those affecting school crossing patrols and the library service Mr Campbell said the council was committed to working with local communities to help support services wherever possible. He said:

"Considering the financial requirements that have been imposed on us, and the central drive to devolve and share some more local responsibilities with our communities, it does not appear unreasonable to work on this.

"We are living in extraordinary times with huge savings demanded of us and working closer with our communities for the benefit of all is not only necessary but is also desirable for the future vision of Dorset."