News in Focus: 550 jobs could be axed in Barking and Dagenham Council’s ‘risky’ shake-up
- Credit: Archant
“A pivotal point in the borough’s next 100 years.”
The last decade has seen Barking and Dagenham Council snipping services left, right and centre – but still the cuts continue.
With George Osborne’s austerity policies showing no signs up of letting up, the cabinet has announced far-reaching proposals to plug most of a £63million hole.
After years of “salami slicing” from an ever-decreasing budget – £72million here, £53.5million there – the borough is preparing for radical shake-up in the way in operates, which could see the loss of 550 public-sector jobs.
Following the publication of the borough’s Growth Commission findings, the borough has launched an eight-week consultation detailing a whole host of measures estimated to reduce the budget gap by 79 per cent to £13.5million.
At the heart of the changes will be a shrinking from separate departments to single, consolidated services with the council preparing to have halved its spending within a decade come 2020.
“We can’t provide every service as we could in the past,” said council leader Cllr Darren Rodwell.
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“People need to be more accountable for their own actions and the surroundings they live in.
“We are bringing back civic pride and the sense of responsibility through measures like our dog mess initiative.”
Housing allocations, financial support and benefits advice are among the separate services coming under the single umbrella of Community Solutions, which bean-counters hope will save £6.6million in the next five years.
A further £11.8million will be slashed by bringing adult and youth services under one roof through an estimated drop in demand, changes to contract-providers and workforce-related savings.
But Barking and Dagenham Citizens Advice Bureau director Pip Salvador-Jones is worried that vulnerable residents will get left behind.
“There’s always a huge risk that whenever changes are made on a scale of this size, the most vulnerable will get lost in the system,” she said.
“I’m very concerned. The changes to community solutions look like they will crudely identify people and put them into general groups and re-route them to services, but that doesn’t always work. People don’t fit into groups.”
The leisure service could become the only council-run service operated fully by another, not-for-profit operator.
The proposals, announced just nine months after The Queen officially opened Abbey Leisure Centre, would see the borough’s centres leased out to create net benefits of £1.2million by 2021.
A collection of council-owned social enterprises will also be launched, using current services in new ways.
The borough’s fleet of in-house repairs and maintenance teams, currently used for the council’s own property portfolio, will be opened up to the commercial market, with Home Services set to save £1.7million.
Working with Thurrock Council, Barking and Dagenham will also provide legal services for other local authorities as BDT Legal, set to generate £550,000 a year for both boroughs by 2021.
Meanwhile Traded Services will offer a range of support functions, initially just to local schools, but with plans to explore wider markets in due course, raising £260,000 a year.
Although specifics are not yet known, the council estimates that 550 full-time posts will be axed – well over an eighth of its current workforce.
Although central government cuts are affecting boroughs up and down the country, Unite union regional officer Onay Kasab insists the council should be doing more to protect workers.
“We hope that Labour councils will stand up and fight back against the onslaught, doing everything possible to mitigate the damage to our communities while clearly placing the blame on the government,” he said.
“Before making these job cuts we urge Barking and Dagenham to look at the example of other Labour councils and come up with a better plan for its workers and the community.”
However cabinet member for finance Dominic Twomey says job-losses are unavoidable.
“We’ll obviously lose some staff, that’s inevitable,” he said at last week’s cabinet meeting.
“[We need to] become a council that’s not just reactive, but very proactive.
“We have saved £100m over the last five years. We aren’t doing this on our own.
“It’s exciting, it’s innovative, some of the finance people will say it’s risky. I think there’s going to be massive change over the next five to 10 years.”
And a spokesman for Britain’s biggest trade union, Unison, admits little can be done. “The closure of more essential local services is inevitable, as councils are forced to lay off hundreds of experienced staff,” he said.
“There is a danger that services will either disappear or residents will have to pay much more to use them.”