COUNCIL bosses need a radical rethink to avoid a bonfire of public services, two major political figures have said this week.
Tory leader Coun Robert Light and former Lib Dem chief Coun Kath Pinnock hit out over the prospect of up to 1,400 council jobs being axed.
Both agree Kirklees Council must decide what services are vital – and who can best deliver them.
It comes as the council grapples with how to make cuts of £45m this year and £60m in 2015-16.
Coun Light (Birstall and Birkenshaw) accused the council’s Labour rulers of doing nothing for the last five years.
He said inaction had left Kirklees, which has already cut about 1,000 staff, now with no choice but to consider even more job losses.
Cabinet member for place Coun Peter McBride (Lab) denied the charge and highlighted budget cuts.
He said: “We’ve never had to make cuts of this scale before. We’re going to have to make some very difficult decisions.”
Other proposals include using sickness absence as a criteria for assessing workers for redundancy.
Coun Light said: “Labour have spent the last five years doing nothing when they should’ve been bringing forward new ways of working.
“The council is treated as if it’s a job agency – so they’ve not looked outside to see if they can get better value for money.”
Coun Light added opening contracts to competition would ‘sharpen up’ bids from the council to run services.
Tendering, he said, could force the cost of keeping services ‘in-house’ down if Kirklees were to win.
He said: “Labour ruled that out. But if you don’t ask the question you’ll never find the answer.”
Coun Pinnock (Cleckheaton) agrees on the need for a rethink but is less sure about the merits of outsourcing.
She said: “I’ve asked the council why it’s among the worst authorities in the country for recycling.
“Part of the answer was the contract with [recycling firm] SITA doesn’t have incentives for them to improve recycling rates.”
On job losses she added: “There’s only three people now in highways who deal with road safety issues – there used to be six.
“There’s only so many jobs you can lose before a service ceases to exist. That’s why I think the council needs to be more creative.”
She suggested job shares or people working reduced hours as a way to cut costs but avoid mass lay-offs.
Coun Pinnock added Labour nationally plan to stick with the same council spending limits as the current Tory-led coalition.
Unions are fighting the plans, especially changes to staff contracts that may make redundancies easier.
One proposed reform is cutting the period of consultation on compulsory job losses from 90 to 45 days.
Paul Holmes, of Kirklees Unison, said: “All of these proposals are aimed at increasing the council’s ability to sack staff more easily.
“But the biggest thing is the stress and expectation on staff to provide services with fewer colleagues.”
Coun McBride said: “We’ll be working all summer to work out the budgets, operating framework and how we make these difficult decisions.
“It’s a terrible situation for us to face. None of us came into local government to do this. But there’s simply no money.”