Cuts to back office jobs will save Westminster �60million

Council axes 450 roles in effort to save frontline services

UP to 450 jobs are to be cut by Westminster Council as they seek to save �60million over the next two years.

The council says 80 per cent of its savings will be focused on cuts to the back office in order to save frontline services, with reductions to bureaucracy, red tape, and middle managers.

Having already shed 531 posts over the past 18 months, the council’s cabinet on Monday approved to further reduce its workforce as part of its 2011/12 budget at a cost of �12 to �18million.

The council is set to maintain all children’s centres and leisure centres as it says it will focus on resident priorities – namely low council tax, clean streets and protecting the vulnerable.

Finance boss Cllr Melvyn Caplan said: “We have to balance the books by finding savings of �60million in two years and if you are going to avoid cutting lots of frontline services, the back office unfortunately is going to suffer.

“The back office is made up of individuals so if you are going to save as much as you can from that side it’s a case of people being made redundant. It’s the lesser of two evils in terms of balancing the books.

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“It’s better than cutting things like Meals on Wheels which is the alternative.”

As well as staff reductions, the council’s budget will also see �4million saved by selling off or leasing under-used premises, �4million from reducing back office functions, and �1.2million from sharing finance services with other boroughs.

The council also decided to freeze its council tax for the fourth consecutive year with the second lowest Band D rate in the country of �687.62.

“In difficult economic times the last thing people want to be doing is paying more council tax,” said Cllr Caplan.

“Our low council tax puts money back into local households to help them live in Westminster.

“Local taxpayers living just outside Westminster, on the other side of the street in Camden or Brent, will pay at least an extra �600 next year – enough for a family holiday.”

However, a recommendation in the budget cabinet report suggests a council tax increase of 3.5 per cent or higher for 2012/13.

The report also reveals the council’s reserves had plummeted from �72million in June 2008 to �11.4million in November 2010.

Cllr Caplan defended the figures saying the council had taken a decision to cushion the effect of the recession by using council reserves rather than making cuts at an earlier stage.

Westminster Labour leader Cllr Paul Dimoldenberg said the council had failed its residents and was hitting vulnerable people with decisions such as removing care services from adults with moderate needs and reducing �200,000 from the Lisson Grove early learning Portman Centre.

“You have run this council badly,” he told councillors at the cabinet meeting. “If this was a business the people running it would be sacked.

“The consequence of this is Westminster is axing services for the vulnerable.

“These service reductions are causing real damage to our social fabric. There’s no justification for this and I ask you to think again.”

The budget will be ratified by full council on Wednesday March 2.