‘It’s worse than we expected’ – that was the verdict of devastated staff as huge council cuts were laid bare.
Wolverhampton City Council will axe 2,000 jobs as it cuts services to stop it from becoming insolvent.
It is twice the number of jobs initially proposed for the axe last October and represents around a third of the council’s workforce.
Staff were told the news during meetings with council chiefs – led by chief executive Simon Warren – at the city’s Civic Hall today.
Opposition Tories and Liberal Democrats today called for top level resignations saying the handling of finances were ‘a catastrophe’. Labour blames the council’s woes on Government funding cuts.
Reporter Catherine Dalton was at a Unison meeting at which the cuts were being discussed from 7pm tonight. See her updates here.
Hours for all staff will be shortened apart from those who are paid the lowest, staff were told.
It means people on full time contracts of 37 hours a week will work and be paid only 35 hours, while a pay freeze is also being imposed.
And among the new cutbacks revealed today were that cameras will be used to enforce bus lanes, with fines boosting the council coffers, while businesses will be forced to pay themselves if they want graffiti removed. There will also be a reduction in the budget for outdoor events and all annual pay rises for staff will be frozen.
The council is tightening up on what it pays its workers, with council staff told they even face being docked a day’s pay if they call in sick under moves likely to prove controversial with trade unions.
The job cuts and threats to services are part of £123 million of savings the local authority must make over the next five years.
Just last month, finance boss Councillor Andrew Johnson warned that the authority would go insolvent and would not even have enough money to be able to empty the bins unless it made deep and severe cuts in spending.
Today, the council’s leader confirmed that the books would balance and that the insolvency threat had been stopped by the ‘painful’ cuts that had been drawn up.
But Tory opposition leader, Councillor Neville Patten, said: “The whole situation is awful.
“This council is playing a political football with people’s lives.
“It’s all wrong.
“Andrew Johnson says the Government has singled Wolverhampton out – no it hasn’t.
“All councils are cutting budgets and it’s Wolverhampton’s mismanagement that’s brought us to this.
“Incompetent financial people are running the council.
“I think resignations would be appropriate – they’ve proved themselves not up to the job.
“I feel very sorry for people who will be losing their jobs and we’ll be losing a lot of good people.”
His finance spokesman Councillor Wendy Thompson added: “Frankly you wonder whether senior people should resign.
“Is it appropriate for certain people to remain in their jobs when this is happening.
“Everything comes back to the political leadership and there has been years of mismanagement.
“It’s been poor to say the very least – there should not be this panic and I’ve never seen such a mess in all my life. Wolverhampton is a catastrophe.
“Heaven knows when all this will end.
“There will be a lot of conscientious, hard-working staff who will lose their jobs, which wouldn’t be the case if this council had been careful.
“I feel very sorry for these people and the one thing they shouldn’t be brainwashed into thinking is that it’s all the Government’s fault.
“It’s the council that has got us into this mess.
“You’ve got to ask, what have we got left and what have they been doing with the money?” Liberal Democrat leader Councillor Malcolm Gwinnett added: “This is a disaster.
“People would be better off setting sail on the Titanic than being with this council.
“I think it stems from the top. The chief executive Simon Warren is the man responsible and it’s under his leadership that we’ve found ourselves in this mess.”
Council leader Roger Lawrence said it was unreasonable to blame the chief executive when he said it was the government that had cut the council’s funding.
As council staff emerged from the Civic Hall today there was shock that the number of jobs being axed had gone up again.
Gill Everall, aged 48, who works in regulatory services, said: “It is worse than we expected and don’t think there will be any service that won’t be affected in one way.”
“He (Simon Warren) hasn’t given any names or pointed out any people this is going to affect.”
Meanwhile, Linda Rawson, 52, questioned whether bosses were thinking about the elderly population of the city.
Mrs Rawson, an advanced support worker in the community intermediate care team, said: “I am annoyed with all these redundancies, are they thinking about the elderly of Wolverhampton?
“It will be reducing hours for full-timers from 37 to 35 hours.”
Jayne Rudkin, 51, is also from the care team and added: “I am worried. It is bad enough to know we are going to lose two hours but the job is still not safe.”
There was some positive news from the meeting with bosses pledging to save Bantock House and Central Baths.
Both historic facilities have been under threat and both have seen big public campaigns launched to save them.
Chiefs also revealed that volunteers are being sought to keep libraries open. Councillor Roger Lawrence, the Labour leader of the city council, said: “I would like to place on record my thanks to everyone who took part in the budget consultation and pay tribute to the serious and constructive approach adopted.
“Particular thanks must go to those who said they would be prepared to step in and help us with this crisis by volunteering or working with us to find alternative ways of saving money to prevent service cuts.
“We’ve made no secret of our financial position and these budget proposals are a direct result of the savage cuts Central Government is making to our budget.”
He said the council would have lost £147m, more than half what it used to receive, in Government funding since 2010.
“No organisation or individual could sustain losing half of their income without having to radically reduce spending,” Councillor Lawrence said. We are no different, but when a council reduces its spending that means services people value get cut and jobs are lost.
“It is painful and difficult, but it is unfortunately necessary.
“We will manage through these difficult circumstances, we have no choice but to take these measures in order to produce a legal and balanced budget.
“More job losses are hugely regrettable, not just for the individuals who face losing their livelihoods but also for the city because many of these people live here and spend their money here.
“Proposing such radical changes to terms and conditions of employment are also something we would rather not have to do, but we have little choice with the sums of money we need to save.”
Despite the council pledging to do all it can to save Central Baths Carol Bailey, who has led a campaign to save the leisure facility, called it a ‘grim’ day for the city. She said: “I know the council is doing all it can to save Central Baths and to limit the impact cuts have on leisure in the city.
“They have spoken about possibly running it commercially and spreading the cuts across all three leisure sites; Central Baths, Bert Williams Centre and Aldersley.
“When I go swimming at Central Baths I see people from the council there looking at the structure and assessing ways they can save money.
“You wouldn’t be doing all that work if you wanted to get rid of it so easy, so they are working hard.
“But 2,000 jobs is a massive loss to Wolverhampton. It’s a grim day and no-one wants to make these cuts. I think as a city we have to look at what services we have on offer now, like Central Baths, and use them more or they could go.” Labour MPs today rallied round to support the council. MP for Wolverhampton South East Pat McFadden said the council had been left in an impossible position, and there would be serious consequences whatever course of action it took.
“The responsibility for these decisions lies squarely with the Government which is cutting the council’s grant in half,” he said.
“These cuts will have a real impact on the people of Wolverhampton, and by the end of these proposals the size and shape of our local authority going to be very different from what we have been used to in the past.”
Fellow Labour MP Emma Reynolds, who represents Wolverhampton North East, said she believed the council was doing the best that it could under very difficult circumstances. “The council is doing all it can to protect overall services, however, it faces the unprecedented challenge of having to cut £123 million worth of cuts due to the fact that central government is cutting its grant by around a half,” she said. “What they are trying to do is reduce services rather than cut them altogether, which I believe is the best way to go about it.”
Dawn Sant, regional organiser for Unison, said workers going into the briefings was “like watching lambs to the slaughter.”
The union meeting tonight to discuss the impact of the announcement.
“They are in shock, I have never seen it like this, it is like when you have kicked somebody so hard and they are lying in the gutter. They are totally shocked.”
“The council are eroding everything and the biggest concern I have got is the fact it is £123 million from £98m in just a few months. It is haemorrhaging money.
“Now they are asking people to take a cut on their nationally agreed terms and conditions. They are asking them to have a reduction in their working week from 37 to 35 hours. There will be no overtime rates at a weekend.”