Union fears over Lancashire County Council cutbacks

Lancashire's red rose
Lancashire's red rose
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Attempts to downsize Lancashire County Council to save £300m through voluntary redundancy are doomed to fail, a union official has claimed.

The authority is seeking to trim its workforce by around 2,500 within the next two years. But figures due to go before the council’s cabinet this afternoon show that only 300 people have so far agreed terms to leave, with another 835 expressing an interest in going – and some of those will be refused due to the nature of their jobs.

“It is inevitably going to end in compulsory redundancies,” warned Les Parker, from the Unite union. “It might be early days, but the figures add up to only one thing – they are going to fall a long way short of their target.”

County Hall chiefs need to lose the equivalent of 2,500 full-time posts by April 2016 to make the budget savings demanded by central government.

A sliding scale of redundancy payments mean the earlier staff apply, the bigger their payouts.

The council has been in talks with the unions about how best to achieve the cutbacks.

And last night council leader Coun Jennifer Mein vowed those consultations would continue in the hope of avoiding non-voluntary job losses.

“The reality of the severe cuts made by central Government is that we have to find £300m savings by March 2017 on top of the £220m the council has saved over the last three years,” she said.

“The council simply cannot make these savings without significant reductions both in the services it provides to local communities and in the number of people it employs to deliver those services.

“We are in the early stages of a radical transformation of the county council which will mean it becomes a smaller organisation.

“I am determined to lead the council through this period in a way that makes the changes as fair as possible to the public and employees alike.

“As part of that process we have been talking with the unions and will continue to do so.

“That includes giving everyone who works here a clear understanding of where we’re going and doing everything we can to avoid compulsory redundancies.”

Deputy leader Coun David Borrow added: “We are in the very early stages of the VR process and there are almost two years before that comes to an end.

“It’s a bit too early to say we will have a problem achieving the changes we need to make. I am not unduly worried at the moment. Nothing in these figures so far leads us to have any concerns, although we will inevitably be monitoring the situation closely.”

The LCC payroll included almost 31,000 staff at its peak in 2009.

But cutbacks have led to more than 5,000 departing in the five years since, with the current workforce standing at just over 25,000.

To achieve a further 10 per cent reduction an enhanced voluntary severance package of 1.8 weeks pay for every year of service up to a maximum of 30 weeks was on offer up to March 31 this year. That has now gone down to 1.6 times for the current financial year, it will drop to 1.4 next year and become the statutory minimum redundancy payment at the end of March 2016.

Unite’s Les Rigby, who worked as an auditor at County Hall, added: “If people aren’t queueing up now to take advantage of the higher terms, they are probably not going to be volunteering in a couple of years time when there are no incentives.

“The figure 2,500 is an under-estimation because they are full-time equivalent posts. With part-time staff that could add up to 3,500 people, so there is bound to be a big shortfall.”