Labour tells council to put safety before propaganda

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MILLIONS of pounds of new council cuts to back office roles, spin doctors and council publications such as Outlook should replace plans to slash front line services, according to the main opposition group on the council.

&#149 Labour says plans to cut crossing guards put children at risk. Its proposed cuts include Outlook, below

The Labour group today unveiled details of the budget it will propose at a crunch meeting next month.

It has drawn up 2.3 million of new proposals to cut back on non-front line staff in order to avoid a series of controversial cuts being lined up by officials, including cutting library opening hours, slashing community grants, reducing sports funding and axing a third of the city's school crossing patrols.

It wants to save 350,000 by closing down council "propaganda" publications including Outlook and the Magnet staff magazine.

It would also scale back the council's 2m-a-year team of spin doctors, by reducing staffing costs by more than a third. But the group insists that all of the cuts can be carried out without having to make compulsory redundancies, by using voluntary severance deals, early retirement and redeployment to front line areas of the council.

Councillor Andrew Burns, leader of the Labour group, said: "In the previous four years the council made savings of 94m. All of that was done without compulsory redundancies and recourse to Draconian cuts to front line services. While 90m over three years is a difficult challenge, we believe that it can also be done without these cuts and compulsory redundancies."

The 2.3m of back office cuts include a 300,000 saving from merging parts of the services for communities and city development departments and 400,000 from completing the merger of the finance and corporate services departments.

It also includes 200,000 from the 20-strong "policy development" team and a 300,000 saving from axing school "quality improvement officers" and redeploying those who have education qualifications in schools.

Council officials have already proposed a 280,000 reduction to its communications team but Labour is proposing an additional 450,000 cut on top of that, as well as the 350,000 publications saving. "We are in difficult economic times," said Cllr Burns. "Teachers, social workers and street cleaners are much more of a priority than communications staff."

Administration councillors are currently drawing up their own proposals for the budget meeting, which takes place on February 10, while the other opposition groups will also present fully-costed budget proposals, which are drawn up with the assistance of council finance officials.

Cllr Ricky Henderson, finance spokesman for Labour, said: "The school crossing patrols cut puts children's safety at risk."We are not prepared to take a chance on that."

Council leader Jenny Dawe said: "The administration is currently finalising its budget. This will seek to build upon the success of previous budgets in providing high-quality services in the most efficient and cost-effective manner."