Councillors approve £26m budget cuts

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THREE libraries, two leisure centres and a swimming pool are to close and 226 jobs are to be axed, under plans approved unanimously in Barnsley yesterday as councillors try to save £26 million in the next year.

Bosses at the Labour-controlled authority laid blame for the cuts squarely with the Coalition Government - and warned worse is to come as they prepare to pare back services to “the bare minimum” by 2015.

Council leader Coun Steve Houghton, speaking after councillors voted the 2011/12 budget through, said: “Over the next 12 months we are really going to have to look at our relationship with the community of Barnsley.

“We cannot commit to retaining the depth of services we have been able to provide before. It is going to require a philosophical change.”

Coun Houghton said the council is planning on cutting a further £19m between 2012 and 2015, on top of £26m chopped from next year’s budget. Having already saved about £8m in back-office costs, he said from 2012 nearly all cuts would fall on frontline services.

Chief executive Phil Coppard said next year’s budget represents the biggest cut-back in public services in his 35 years at the council.

Coun Houghton added: “It could have been much worse. I would like to thank our staff and the trade unions because they have worked very closely with us and agreed to a change in terms and conditions to save 200 jobs.”

Staff at the council have agreed to a two-year freeze in pay increments and senior officers and councillors will take a five per cent pay cut.

Union leaders at nearby Sheffield Council have refused similar measures, and at Rotherham Council unions have balloted their members on whether to accept a freeze.

In Barnsley savings from the combined pay and conditions changes add up to £3.1m. With many workers accepting voluntary redundancy, the council has been able to reduce estimated compulsory job redundancies next year from 700 to 225.

The jobs of two threatened lollipop ladies in Hoyland Common have been saved and no redundancies will be made in the highways department.

But Coun Houghton said he could guarantee their jobs for only 12 months.

“We have tried to keep priority services like roads maintenance, cleaning, and crossing patrols running for another year. We are also keeping free parking in the town centre to support our traders and boost footfall.

“But we cannot avoid the fact that over four years we are going to lose £45m. We are going to have to change the way we work as a council, which may involve community groups taking the slack.”