THE leader of Rotherham Council has accused government ministers of “living in cloud cuckoo land” for claiming cutbacks would not hit services, as he revealed a £30 million budget shortfall.
Labour’s Coun Roger Stone said the authority will be forced to axe 280 council jobs in the next year, on top of 300 voluntary redundancies already taken.
The council cabinet yesterday approved a budget which deals with 11.6 per cent funding cutbacks, well above the average 9.9 per cent squeeze councils have had elsewhere.
Coun Stone launched a stinging attack on Communities Minister Eric Pickles, who has said councils should not have to cut frontline services despite reduced income.
The Rotherham leader said: “Eric Pickles is obviously living in cloud cuckoo land.
“When we have a minister that tells us we can cut back office staff without having a problem for services, well he is living in dream land.
“When he announced the comprehensive spending review he said average cuts to government funding would be four per cent.
“What he didn’t say was they had taken away all the grants at the back end.
“When we see leafy Surrey losing only two or three per cent, there is an unreal disparity. There is a lot of politics in this. They didn’t have to do it - for me they are trying to roll back the state.”
Coun Stone said he hoped the number of workers made redundant at the council would be far fewer than the 280 jobs predicted.
Chief executive Martin Kimber said many roles would be cut by not filling vacancies, rather than making redundancies.
He said an additional £3m a year would be saved by changing workers’ terms and conditions, freezing pay, and by stopping salary increments.
Coun Stone attacked the Unison trade union, who this week balloted members asking whether they were prepared to allow an attack on working conditions.
He said: “If these changes do not go ahead we will need to find another £3m, which is equivalent to between 130 and 150 jobs.
“We have had an extremely good relationship with the local trade unions but that ballot - which came from the regional office - does not do justice to the way we have been working.”
He added: “As a former trade union official I know what it is to be out of work.
“We are trying to be as loyal to our staff as we can.”
The budget, which proposes £29.3m of savings to be made until 2014, is to go to full council for approval next Wednesday.