COMPULSORY redundancies could be handed out for the first time as Brighton and Hove City Council makes £24 million cuts in its most “difficult year ever”.
The local authority is to axe 140 jobs in 2017/18 with 300 to go over the next three years.
Unions have warned the city would face a “winter of discontent” if staff were forced out by cuts.
The council will make £51 million cuts over the next three years on top of £97 million made over the past five.
The 2017/18 cuts, already planned to be the biggest of the Labour administration’s four-year term, have grown substantially since the summer because of pressures on services and cuts to education grants.
Council tax bills could rise by six per cent with an imminent Government announcement anticipated for the adult social care precept to double to four per cent.
Council leader Warren Morgan said the rise would be “eye-watering” and would be no “magic bullet” but the council would be “irresponsible” not to take up the chance to find two thirds of the £3 million savings still to be found next year.
The council is considering further cuts to social care and homelessness services, taking more from reserves and further borrowing to find the necessary savings.
The Labour leader ruled out a referendum-inducing council tax rise because of its impact on low-income households, which he said are set to be “hit very hard” by benefit changes.
As well as job cuts, a further 320 council roles are set to be transferred out to private firms, trusts or the voluntary sector in the next three years.
Council leader Warren Morgan said: “This is the most difficult by far that the council has ever had to face under any administration.
“There are no easy measures, no simple solutions and no pain-free cuts left.
“We are moving as fast as we can [in reforming services] but we cannot keep up with the massive rate of cuts.
“You cannot take £140 million out of a budget over a 10-year period and not have that impact in terms of staff reductions but obviously we want to avoid that wherever possible.”
GMB branch secretary Mark Turner said: “We haven’t had people made compulsorily redundant, people forced out by the budget before, but the day is coming close.
“If that’s the case I think you could see a winter of discontent because that is something that we will fight against and I know that Unison would do the same.”
CHILDREN'S SERVICES - £5.7m
UNIONS claim children’s services will be the hardest hit in budget cuts this time.
The £800,000 cut to youth services and the end of the Playbus have already grabbed the headlines this week.
But concerns have also been raised about damaging cuts to parenting support services and threats to the Brighton Unemployed Centre creche because of a £40,000 cut.
In other proposed cutbacks, a domestic violence team will lose almost a third of its budget. There are fears that such incidents could increase as perpetrators go unpunished. As well as cuts to council-commissioned youth charities, unions are concerned about cuts to in-house youth work and youth reoffending teams. Unison branch secretary Sue Beatty said: “Last year it was adult social care that took the brunt but there is nothing left to cut and social care has become a real hot potato. So what they are doing this year is to focus on children and young families instead.”
Council leader Warren Morgan said children’s services were being protected. He said most councils had already withdrawn from youth services and the authority would continue to invest, particularly supporting the most vulnerable, those involved in substance misuse, mental health and young people not in education, employment or training. He said: “We made the decision to protect children this time around having had some cuts to children’s centres that were really painful. We want to protect children’s centres, nurseries and child protection. We’ve seen headlines about putting kids in danger, that’s not what is happening.”
He said no options had been off the table amid union claims officers had proposed more children’s centre closures and the privatisation of nurseries.
The proposals would see seven children’s centres and six nurseries remain open and in public hands but council officers have warned of a proposed nursery fee rise.
ADULT SERVCES - £4.8m
WITH the biggest budget of all council departments at more than £100 million, adult services always have a healthy slice of savings to find.
Among the headline cuts is a further £600,000 from the substance misuse team which contributed £500,000 cuts to the current budget contract.
A fifth of its budget is set to go by 2020 which equates to £1.2 million out of its £5.8 million budget.
Council officers have warned the cut could mean fewer patients successfully receiving treatment.
Mental health support services face another £200,000 cut in 2017/18 and 2018/19 after shouldering the same amount this year. It is feared that those in need of support may need hospital readmission and may not have their complex needs met.
Sexual health services, facing £840,000 of cuts by 2019/20, could come under increased pressure with uncertainty surrounding the future of NHS funding after April.
Health visitors and school nurses services are also at risk of decline in the face of £800,000 of cuts in 2017/18.
The biggest saving is £1.4 million sought in reviewing community care packages.
Unison branch secretary Sue Beatty said cuts had gone past affecting just frontline services and now “services of last resort” were facing cuts.
She said she feared for the future of residential care centres at Ireland Lodge and Wayfield Avenue if £120,000 savings could not be found with the clinical commission group (CCG).
CCG support is considered integral for the services to continue.
She added the union would do “whatever it takes” to preserve vital services and members’ posts in this sector.
The GMB warned that savings in adult social services would mean more privatisation and a reduction in the terms and the conditions for council workers.
ECONOMY, ENVIRONMENT AND CULTURE - £4.66m
WITH day tripper and Royal Pavilion visitor numbers in decline, cuts are planned to the tourism team.
Visitor services will be cut by £80,000 despite warnings it could hit the £815 million tourism economy and lead to the council “being perceived as not promoting or supportive of business”.
The Royal Pavilion team will reduce staffing costs by up to £200,000 with new revenue from hiring out parts of the estate not previously available. Council leader Warren Morgan said savings in the tourism team were minimal.
He said: “We have very much protected visitor services because our economy depends on it.”
He added a new trust would put the Pavilion in a “lifeboat” rather than it suffer death by “1,000 cuts” in council control.
Plans to replace the concierge service at council buildings with security guards has received considerable criticism.
The GMB and Unison raised concerns more digital-led interaction with the council would exclude the elderly, the disabled and residents with mental health problems. Unison’s Sue Beatty said: “As the council has said they want to treat members of the public like customers then that’s what they should do, not treat them like cattle.”
GMB’s Mark Turner said: “The plan could well be that they don’t want residents coming into the main central office to voice their opinion and instead sending their queries to a PO box number.”
Cllr Morgan said people wanted to deal with the council as they did with the likes of Amazon or Facebook, with resources still available for those who need support.
He said: “We cannot afford to employ sufficient staff to deal with everyone face to face.
“The people who prefer contacting us online, we are taking them out of the queue and putting the people who need that contact, closer to the front.”
NEIGHBOURHOOD AND COMMUNITIES - £1.39m
AFTER the bruising battle over Hove Library last year, the libraries budget will be placed under less stress this time around with £50,000 of savings, with a significant cut to the book fund over four years.
Savings planned by moving Hove Library to Hove Museum will now be found through internal changes to increase income generation potential and to reduce running costs. An end to Sunday opening is also being considered to reduce costs though this could hit revenue opportunities.
Council bosses have said rough sleeping and homeless prevention support for families is protected though that may be revised if the £3 million hole in the budget is not filled by February.
Savings of £716,000 from the high demand temporary accommodation budget will be sought with a greater focus on homelessness prevention.
Recent concerns over the rise in antisocial behaviour and street crime in the face of changes to PCSOs will not be eased.
This is as a result of cuts to crime and disorder management budgets with a reduced council contribution to police drugs and a cut to LGBT community services. It is feared this could reduce community trust and confidence. Staff cuts are also planned from 2018/19 to the community safety casework team working with victims of antisocial behaviour and hate incidents to help bring their cases to resolution. GMB branch secretary Mark Turner said the council had got its priorities wrong in creating the new neighbourhood, communities department, headed by a £106,000-a-year director arriving in January.
Mr Turner described plans for neighbourhood hubs as a “dinosaur” policy from the Tony Blair years. He said £1 million of the new department’s budget should be put to better use with other frontline services.