Job cuts will not impact on services say Havering Council chiefs

Cutting 400 staff to plug a multi-million budget gap will not affect the quality of services, Havering Council’s executive officers have insisted.

Over the next two years, the council will lose more than a tenth of its 3,300 staff jobs to close the £13million budget gap it is facing next year.

The plan is to offer voluntary redundancies, “delete” roles that are currently vacant and reduce the use of agency staff to save about £7million.

Presenting the draft budget for 2022/23 to the overview and scrutiny board, chief operating officer Jane West said the figures are “sound” as long as the savings can be made.

She added: “Our view is that with all the new efficiencies and IT systems that we’ve acquired… we shouldn’t see a reduction in services. I think you might even see an increase in services delivered.”

Councillor Graham Williamson warned that letting lots of staff go could add to existing “morale problems” and affect performance.

He added: “People will start leaving, staff will burn out, you’ll lose experienced people.”

Ms West, who will soon leave Havering for cash-strapped Croydon Council, said staff numbers have been kept high over the last two years to help during the pandemic.

She said the council needs to cut a further £27million over the next four years and has growing demand for help with both children and adult social care.

Risks to its finances include another COVID variant, increased costs from inflation and dwindling reserves – expected to drop to £8million by the end of the year.

Chief executive Andrew Blake-Herbert said the combination of risks and twelve years of austerity means Havering is “almost in the perfect storm”.

He added: “Our biggest expenditure is on staffing, therefore we have to look at that.

“We still have some level of service and have to provide that, but expectations are going up and ultimately that can’t go on. In terms of what we are doing we are punching above our weight.

“At the moment what we need is a huge injection of money, but the government hasn’t really got a source.

“Everybody in every council chamber is having exactly the same debate and feeling they are hard done by.”

Board members agreed to recommend the council find a way to monitor the quality of its services if staff are cut.

The proposed budget will be voted on at tonight’s cabinet meeting before going to full council on March 2.

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Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter