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Birmingham City Council’s disappearing act

Birmingham City Council’s disappearing act

🕔18.Jun 2013

jobcentreThe workforce at Birmingham City Council has been slashed by almost a third in just three years with the loss of 7,000 jobs.

Britain’s largest local authority suffered a 29 per cent fall in the number of employees between 2010 and 2013, giving a clear indication of the impact huge budget cuts are having on local government.

In April 2010, just before the General Election, the city council employed 25,000 people in full and part-time jobs, excluding teachers and other school staff.

Three years later, the figure is down to 18,000 and is likely to fall even further as the council presses ahead with a rationalisation and voluntary redundancy programme.

Earlier this month council leader Sir Albert Bore warned that a financial squeeze which will force the authority to meet a £615 million shortfall made it inevitable that further restructuring of departments and downsizing would be necessary.

He is consulting on ways of farming out work to the private and voluntary sectors, and has conceded that the council may cease to deliver some services altogether. Everything that the council does is under examination to decide whether “there is a legitimate and necessary role for local government in this programme area or activity”.

The council’s gross wage costs are falling by about £35 million a year.

Labour council leaders began a voluntary redundancy trawl in December 2012, inviting 5,500 employees from across 43 service areas to apply for a leaver’s package offering enhanced cash payments.  So far, 661 applications have been received and 505 of those accepted.

Savings to the council from the latest attempt to trim the workforce amount to £14.4 million, but one-off redundancy and pension costs are £11.5 million.

A council spokesman said the number of voluntary redundancies approved were “on target” and would minimise the need for compulsory redundancies.

Meanwhile, members of staff still employed by the council are continuing to battle against illness.

Sickness absence figures show an increase with an average 12.4 days a year lost by each employee in 2012-13. The figure has since been reduced to about 11 days following a crackdown on absenteeism.

However, the average time off is significantly higher than a target of nine days set by the council several years ago.

Anxiety, stress and depression remain the most common reasons given for staying at home. About 13,000 days a month are lost to sickness and two-thirds of absences are due to long-term sick leave.

Almost 500 employees are on long-term sick leave, while 218 returned to work last month.

Employment Committee members took differing views about the redundancy progamme.

Perry Barr Liberal Democrat councillor Ray Hassall claimed that more and more people over 50 wanted to “relax and enjoy life” and might welcome quitting work.

He added: “I worked for BT and they got rid of two-thirds of their staff in three years. I took voluntary redundancy at 49 and it was the best thing I ever did.”

However, Cllr Barry Bowles (Lab Hall Green) said: “People are jumping ship this year because they know if they don’t they will be forced off the ship next year. They can see the writing on the wall.”

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