One thousand jobs are to be axed at Wolverhampton City Council under massive cuts unveiled today.
Council workers have been gathered at the city’s Civic Halls where the news was broken to them by chief executive Simon Warren.
The axe will fall over the next 18 months as the council tries to find £89 million of savings.
Leader of the council Roger Lawrence called it a ‘dark day’ for Wolverhampton brought about by unprecedented government cuts and increasing demand for services. A rising birth rate, higher immigration and people living longer have also added to the cost of running council services.
Bosses today promised to seek voluntary redundancies where they can.
But the task will be difficult because the new job losses come on top of 600 axed over the past five years. Senior management costs have been reduced by 30 per cent.
Mr Warren stressed that the council had a legal duty to balance its budget and that if the cuts were not made, the government would appoint a team to do it.
After speaking with staff inside the Civic Hall he also spoke directly with workers wearing high visibility jackets outside in North Street.
It is not yet known where the axe will fall but senior councillors will be expected to pore over savings plans being drawn up by each department in the coming weeks.
Mr Warren said: “In 18 months’ time, the council will have many fewer employees. A large scale redundancy programme is unavoidable.
“We don’t yet have final figures for the number of posts that will need to go but the losses between now and 2015 will be substantial, probably around 1,000 posts.”
In a speech to staff he said: “The important point for you to take away now is that cuts in Government funding mean that it is no longer possible for the council to carry on with ‘business as usual’. It can’t remain financially viable, let alone deliver on some of its key objectives, unless it takes a radical approach to its current service position and scales back those activities which don’t make a clear contribution to its priorities.”
Councillor Lawrence said the news was broken to Labour party councillors on Monday night. He revealed there had been ‘some tears’ among politicians at the course of action facing them. Councillor Lawrence has been on the council since 1983 and has led the Labour group since 2002.
He added: “This is a dark day for Wolverhampton, our residents and staff. The council cannot deliver a legal balanced budget unless it takes a radical approach to its current service provision.
“Our spending will therefore be strictly confined to essential services and the priorities stated by Wolverhampton’s residents in our recent budget engagement: economic regeneration, job creation and supporting vulnerable people.
“Change on this scale will be extremely painful, not least because our staff have already been bearing the brunt of government cuts to council grants over a number of years through recruitment and wage freezes.
“I am very sad that we are now in a position where we will lose so many hard-working and dedicated officers.
“However, as council leader elected to represent the people of Wolverhampton, I have to pursue a course of action that best safeguards the future of services needed by the people of this city and in the face of continued and unprecedented government cuts this action has now become inevitable.”
The Unison trade union today warned that it was prepared for strike action. Regional organiser Dawn Sant said members would be invited to a meeting next Tuesday where they would be asked if they wanted to be balloted.
She revealed workers were told yesterday morning that they needed to attend today’s meeting at the Civic Hall. “The timing of this is really bad”, she said. “We can’t have a situation where there are still lots of managers but not enough people to provide front line services.”
Strike threat as axe falls - Double page special in tonight's City Final Express & Star