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Deficit in council services set to hit frontline services

PUBLISHED: 11:23 19 November 2009 | UPDATED: 16:33 07 September 2010

A MULTI-MILLION pound deficit in the council's finances could lead to cuts in frontline services, say trade union representatives. Tory-run Westminster Council is facing a £26million shortfall due to a mixture of overspending, reductions i

Sanchez Manning

A MULTI-MILLION pound deficit in the council's finances could lead to cuts in frontline services, say trade union representatives.

Tory-run Westminster Council is facing a £26million shortfall due to a mixture of overspending, reductions in parking income and a drop in interest rates, it was revealed in an official report this month.

Council leader Colin Barrow promised the financial void would be filled by savings from the 300 job cuts being made as part of a major "restructuring" programme.

But Stephen Higgins, branch secretary of Westminster Unison, which represents the interests of public sector workers, branded this claim as "rubbish".

He said the redundancies the council has already made have failed to result in enough savings even to meet a £10million shortfall forecast at the beginning of the year.

And in light of this failure, Mr Higgins says it will be nigh on impossible to come up with the additional £26million now needed without more cuts.

"If they didn't fill the £10million void in the first instance how are they going to fill a £26million one?" he said.

"They made a commitment there would be no cuts to front line services but they are going to have to break their promise."

Mr Higgins revealed that the council has split the cuts it is making into three phases, with 120 job losses in the first phase and 20 in the second.

But he said details of how many jobs will go in the third phase are still to be confirmed, and he predicts this is where Westminster will try to increase their cash flow.

"Council jobs have already been cut to the bone - they can't afford to lose anymore staff," he said.

"So the only way they can achieve more savings through staff is by cutting frontline services."

Leader of Westminster Labour group, Paul Dimoldenberg, agreed that more council staff could be for the chop in an attempt to claw back revenue.

"The people who are going to suffer are residents who will get poorer services and staff who will lose their jobs," he said.

"The financial hole won't be filled by the restructuring."

However, Cllr Barrow assured residents there was no cause for alarm because the council was still in a strong financial position with reserves of £60million.

While Westminster's finance boss, Cllr Melvyn Caplan, admitted that the council had seen a drop in income levels, he said this would not impact on frontline services.

He said: "We are currently working up a robust plan of action to tackle this.

"Residents and businesses should be assured that because we have built up substantial reserves, and undergone a major restructure stripping out waste and duplication, we are well prepared for these challenging times. We will continue to provide first-class frontline services throughout the city.

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