1200 out of job as council axe falls

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CITY leaders today admitted they could be forced into compulsory redundancies as they make cuts which will hit 1200 posts.

The Liberal Democrat/SNP administration has agreed to enforce 32 million worth of savings in the next two years as part of its 1 billion budget unveiled today.

Controversial cuts to be announced today include reducing wheelie bin collections across the city to fortnightly, closing half of the city's public toilets, slashing school budgets and imposing the first across-the-board increase in parking permit charges in a decade. They are part of attempts to plug a funding gap of more than 90m that the council expects to face over the next three years.

The savings announced will result in the city council slashing the equivalent of 1200 full-time posts in the next three years. And council chiefs have warned that the authority could be in for up to 15 more years of tough funding pressures - meaning more cuts and job losses are inevitable.

Council tax will be frozen for the fourth successive year but a hike in the amount residents pay is expected to be considered as part of the 2012/13 budget.

Councillor Phil Wheeler, the city's finance leader, admitted compulsory redundancies cannot be ruled out. He said: "There is a package of HR schemes, such as VERA (voluntary early release agreements) and others, so we are looking for natural wastage and voluntary measures as much as possible.

"But I am a realist and I cannot rule out that, at some stage, we will have to go to compulsory redundancies. Why should the public sector be any different from the private sector? It is a last resort but we will not rule it out."

Staffing numbers have been reduced by 2.3 per cent in the last year, to the full-time equivalent (FTE) of 15,589 and a total headcount of 19,771. Today's decisions would mean another 7.7 per cent reduction, taking FTE numbers towards 14,400.

Financial projections assume a pay freeze for all staff, including teachers, for the next two years. However, the decision is subject to nationally-negotiated settlements.

Council chief executive Sue Bruce warned that more than a decade of financial gloom could lie ahead. She said: "For all public bodies, it is a very difficult landscape. We know from economic forecasts that we can expect a tight time for anything up to 15 years. Going forward, it is increasingly the case that we will be building on the strong partnerships we have at a neighbourhood level, with businesses and with the third sector."

The council tax freeze means Edinburgh's Band D rate, at 1169, remains the lowest of Scotland's four main cities.

It is estimated that a minimum 3.5 per cent increase in council tax would have been needed this year to be more valuable than the 7m funding the SNP government provided to continue the freeze. Cllr Wheeler said the city may look for "more control of our own destiny" next year when considering a council tax rise, but said it depends on whether there was a Scottish Government offer to continue the freeze.

Council leader Jenny Dawe said three quarters of the savings would come from "backroom" roles. She said: "In delivering record efficiency savings year after year, this administration has been pursuing maximum value for money and greater workforce planning. This has proved invaluable in protecting services and staff from the damage that the extreme reductions in funding may otherwise have required."

The council administration has pledged not to close any more schools. But Cllr Dawe admitted such proposals were likely to be revisited in the future. She said: "It has been raised by a lot of secondary school heads. They see, as we did when we closed some primary schools, that some schools are under-used.

"We took the decision that for the rest of our time as this administration, we will not go down that route, although it is certainly something the director (of children and families] wanted us to look at. It is something the next administration will have to consider."

Tories will support opposition's proposals

THE two biggest political rivals in the City Chambers were today set to come together in a show of unity against the cuts proposed by the Liberal Democrat/SNP administration.

The Conservative group has announced it is to support the opposition budget proposed by the Labour group.

Every group usually draws up its own budget motion, with its councillors then voting on party lines, with the administration budget being carried forward on the casting vote of the Lord Provost.

But the Tories did not present a budget this year amid concerns about lack of transparency.

Now they have announced they will back Labour's proposals.

Councillor Jeremy Balfour, leader of the Tory group, said: "Their budget looks to safeguard front line services, so we will look to support it."