The leader of Gateshead Council has spoken of the heartbreak of having to make drastic budget cuts to plug an expected £46m shortfall in its finances over the next two years.
Coun Mick Henry said:
“It’s heartbreaking not just for me but people who work here who have joined me on the council. We’re all from Gateshead, most were born here and we believe in Gateshead.”
The council has already reduced spending by £90.6m since 2010 costing 1,700 jobs but, it says, because of further Government cuts it will have to find further savings of £46m by 2017.
It will mean over the seven year period it will have had to make around £140m in savings. In that time, the council workforce will have been slashed almost in half, from 4,000 to just below 2,000.
Coun Henry admitted: “You can’t lose that percentage of staff without it having a major impact on services.”
He was speaking after a Cabinet meeting which gave the go ahead for a raft of proposals which are now going out to public consultation.
Recommendations could see the equivalent of 275 full time equivalent posts being lost with leisure and housing provision being the areas hit hardest by the jobs axe.
There would also be a significant reduction in road maintenance, a review of library and children’s services and the axing of a free support service for elderly people.
In the arts, there will be a 15% reduction in funding to the Sage music centre and Baltic art gallery as well as a cut in backing for high profile events like the Great North Run.
Coun Henry, who is on the board of both the Sage and the Baltic said the cuts haven’t come as a surprise to them as last year the council outlined plans for a 30% reduction over two years.
“They recognise the need to become less dependant on public funding if they can,” he said.
Speaking about the situation overall, he commented: “I’m extremely concerned, however we just have to get on with it.”
There is a possibility it might have to revise its figures at the end of the year when the council will find out how much it will receive from the Government in the Local Government Finance Settlement.
“We’re not holding our breath about that,” said Coun Henry. “Hopefully there won’t be any surprises. Assuming it doesn’t get any better we’ll be making the decision on the budget in the New Year which will be set in mid February.”
He said he was hoping the public and the trade unions representing workers at risk would get involved in the consultations.
“We’re trying to talk through why we’re having to make these savings and what is the best way of doing this. We’ve started to make progress.
“We need to make people realise just how serious it is. It is a double whammy with its effect on the local economy and people’s lives.
“I’ve been in council for 28 years, during the famous days of Thatcher and we’ve never experienced anything like this.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 04 nov 2014