Headlines: March 2nd, 2009

Half of councils in England have axed jobs in the last few months and seven in ten anticipate further redundancies as the recession hits local government. In some parts of the country councils are the largest employer and across the UK employ 2.2 million workers.

A survey of 129 council leaders by the Local Government Association reveals the tough decisions that town halls are having to make as the recession bites and they are forced to balance budgets and keep council tax down.

A regional breakdown of job losses that have already been made shows that 67 per cent of councils in the South West have cut jobs already. The next highest areas for cuts are West Midlands and the South East with some 56 per cent. In London the North East and North West some 40 per cent have cut back on jobs. At the lower end, 37 per cent of councils Yorkshire and Humberside have so far made cuts.

Details of the job cuts coincided with a call by the Taxpayers’ Alliance for council leaders to cut “gold-plated” pensions for town hall staff because they will be unsustainable during a deepening recession. The Taxpayers’ Alliance, which campaigns for lower taxes, said one pound in every five paid in council tax goes towards local authority pensions. Council pensions, excluding those for firemen and teachers, cost 4.5 billion pounds in 2007-08, a seven percent rise on the year before, according to the group’s research.

Maria Fort, of the Alliance said: “Gold-plated public sector pensions place a stranglehold on council budgets. They are unjust, unsustainable and unfair.”

In response, the Chief Executive of the Local Government Association said: “The Local Government Pension Scheme recently underwent a radical overhaul, which provides greater value for money to the taxpayer while at the same time recognising the invaluable work that council staff do to make the lives of local people better. Councillors do a hugely important job, leading highly complex organisations with billion pound turnovers, mostly for little reward. If we, as a society, want to recruit the best people and retain them, we need to pay for it.”