The shocking extent of Wolverhampton’s council crisis was being realised today – as more devastating cuts in public services were revealed.
Two thousand jobs – one third of the workforce – will be axed, council tax bills will rise and hours will be cut as Wolverhampton City Council attempts to ensure its future by saving £123million.
It is now claimed that vital services for elderly people, children and people with learning disabilities could be privatised in a desperate bid to save even more cash.
Around 500 council staff will move into the private sector under the proposals, union bosses allege.
Council chiefs have defiantly refused to resign, with opposition Tory councillors renewing calls for heads to roll.
And the former Archbishop of Canterbury – Dr Rowan Williams – has had his say on the overwhelming job cuts, saying his ‘heart went out’ to those who would lose their jobs.
Union chiefs discussed the council’s savings proposals at a meeting in the city last night, saying they were devastated and labelling the 2,000 job losses as ‘shocking’.
Members said people were being forced into poverty and could not rule out industrial action being taken.
Yesterday’s crippling cuts – announced by chief executive Simon Warren who summoned staff to the Civic Hall – were far deeper than originally proposed.
Just months ago council bosses said 1,000 jobs would go and £89m would have to be saved by 2019.
The figure then shot up to £123m with the warning that 1,400 jobs would be axed as the council discovered the full extent of cuts in its central government grants.
The job losses today stand at a predicted 2,000.
Last month chiefs issued a stark warning that without further cuts the authority would go insolvent in a year and would not even be able to empty the bins or care for the elderly.
Now they have announced plans to install cameras to enforce bus lanes, with fines being used to boost council coffers, while businesses will be forced to pay if they want graffiti removed. A reduction in the budget for outdoor events could see much-loved events like Wolvestock placed under threat, while the city’s Grand Theatre budget has been cut.
The number of councillors may also decrease, while staff have been told that annual pay rises are to be frozen.
Their full-time contracts will be reduced from 37 hours a week to 35 and there will be no sick pay for staff for their first day off.
And people who drive their own cars on council business also face seeing their allowances cut from 45p to 25p a mile.
Council tax will also rise by just under two per cent – the first increase since 2009.
Leader Roger Lawrence - who along with finance chief Andrew Johnson and chief executive Mr Warren has been placed under serious pressure to resign by Tory councillors - said he did not want to bring in the changes but that there was no other choice.
And he rejected calls to resign.
Councillor Lawrence said: “I’m not entirely sure which part of the £147m that we have had taken away from us could be considered the fault of the chief executive.
“The Conservatives have signed petitions against the cuts we are having to make.
“But they haven’t sent a single letter to the Government asking for a change to the cuts.
“They should be sticking up for Wolverhampton.”
The council says it has been forced to make sweeping cuts as it has lost £147 million worth of central government funding.
Plans have also been confirmed to increase the price of school meals by 8p, although schools will decide whether or not to pass that cost on to parents.
The council recommends they charge £2.10 in most schools or £2 in nurseries. And neighbourhood wardens patrolling the streets will be reduced from 30 to 18. Libraries will also have their opening hours dramatically reduced.