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Council services face 20pc cuts in merger talks
KEY council services in Worcestershire are facing cuts of up to 20 per cent under controversial attempts to save money, it has emerged.
Fears have been expressed the county council’s plan to merge certain functions with Staffordshire and Shropshire will lead to job losses, a lack of accountability and redundant buildings.
As your Worcester News first revealed in June, councils in the three counties have agreed to “team up” to explore common ideas for cutbacks.
Five areas have been earmarked for some kind of shared agreement: fostering and adoption, education services, faster broadband, IT, and procurement, such as buying stationery.
Now a briefing paper has been published, saying bosses aim to slash costs by 20 per cent in all of them by 2015.
The project, known as the Tri-Council initiative, was debated during a meeting of the overview and scrutiny performance board at County Hall.
Councillor Ken Pollock said: “If you’re looking at saving money there’s only two ways you can do it – firstly by paying less for a service, and secondly by operating with fewer people.
“I just wonder where the jobs will go, and if the pain will actually be spread out – it’s got the potential to become a bit messy.”
Luke Willetts, of the performance development team, said: “When we get details on that difficult conversations will need to be had, but there is a willingness to work together.
“I don’t see it all about job losses, as there are other ways to be more efficient, but we can’t get away from the fact that job losses may well be possible.”
Coun Pollock added: “On another point, one of the council’s corporate aims is to be ‘open for business’ – there’s real competition between Worcestershire and both of these other counties on economic development – if we look to share this area, it could get hairy.”
Other politicians said they were worried a ‘one size fits all approach’ could cause damage.
Coun Tom Wells said: “Worcestershire is very different from Staffordshire and Shropshire.
“What people see as priorities in my division are different from people in Stoke-on-Trent and Telford.
“Look at fostering and adoption, that’s included as one area for this scheme but it’s so sensitive – I would have thought it was best kept local.”
Coun Sue Askin said she was concerned about the role backbench politicians could have in the process, and buildings becoming empty as departments come together.
Mr Willetts said officers were working on the proposals and that “by the end of the calendar year” more details should start to emerge.
He said talks had also started with Herefordshire to potentially become a fourth member of the scheme.