Saturday 15th August 2020
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17/06/2020 - Council announces job losses and cuts to frontline services

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Luton Council has today set out how it plans to deliver a balanced budget following the catastrophic impact of Covid-19 on its finances.

​With aviation at a virtual standstill, income from the council’s airport company, which has played an increasingly key role in supporting vital services, has all but dried up since March. This has placed the council in the painful situation of having to propose severe cuts to a number of key front line services.
 
Leader of the council, Hazel Simmons MBE, said: “What we are looking at here is the prospect of further suffering for the people of Luton. As a result of coronavirus there is already so much misery in the town and behind these stark figures are individuals with livelihoods and families to care for.
 
“These past few weeks have been the worst of my political career. The council has repeatedly called on central government to provide adequate emergency funding, but so far these pleas have fallen on deaf ears. If they continue to adopt this stance of indifference we will be forced to implement extreme savings measures to avoid the possibility of bankruptcy, which itself would have an even more destructive impact on services.
 
“Throughout this crisis council staff have shown unbelievable levels of dedication and sacrifice, yet now, through no fault of their own, a number of them are at risk of losing their jobs. It is an extremely bitter pill to swallow.”
 
As a result of Covid-19, the council has been faced with a £50m shortfall in its finances, even after taking into account the money already provided to councils to deal with the immediate aftermath of the pandemic. Whilst money from the airport has been most affected, other income streams from commercial sources as well as business rates and council tax have also been hard hit. The council is able to call on reserves, but still needs to take out almost £22m from the budget in order to fulfil its legal duty to balance the books.
 
Council officers have been working around the clock for the last six weeks looking at every single item of expenditure in order to protect frontline services. Over £9m of savings have already been identified through measures such as back office efficiencies, improving the way contracts are managed, savings from building closures and proposals to bring in more income.

Without this rigorous reappraisal of the way the council works, the overall impact would have been so much worse. Nevertheless, given the magnitude of the savings needed, regrettably the balance will need to come from staffing reductions and cuts to some front line services.
 
The proposals which will most impact the public include:
  • a new customer services model reducing face to face contact, except for our most vulnerable residents
  • a review of the council tax support scheme
  • reductions in neighbourhood enforcement, public protection services and highways maintenance
  • introducing charging for green waste collection
  • energy savings on street lights
  • a reduction in adult social care and home care funding
  • reduced funding for key preventative and mental health support services
  • a review of the way we support travel for adults and children who require it
  • reductions in funding for school improvement, youth advice and early years services
Councillor Simmons continued: “To see some of the key proposals laid starkly before us is deeply shocking and to even contemplate them goes against everything I stand for. Each one of them will have a negative impact on frontline services. Unfortunately we have no choice but to do this unless we get government funding.
 
“We will, of course, still need to consult thoroughly on some of the proposals and are absolutely committed to limiting the effect they have. And I want people to still be assured that despite reductions in all areas of council spending, including areas such as children’s and adult’s services, our most vulnerable children, families and adults will still have access to the support they need.
 
Councillor Andy Malcolm, portfolio holder for finance explained why the council is facing such terrible choices: “Our response to the crippling years of austerity, during which £130m of savings had to be made, was to create innovative income streams to decrease our reliance on government funding. Not only have we been able to keep the town afloat during these years, but our actions have been praised many times by the government – a government which is now proving itself to be unconcerned by our terrible plight.
 
“As has been the case in the past we have looked to the people of Luton for their solidarity and I am really grateful for those who have been engaging with us in the last few weeks. We have received over 600 savings ideas sent in by residents who care passionately about the town. Many of these suggestions have been incorporated in the current proposals, but their inclusion only serves as a reminder of the desperate situation we are all experiencing.
 
“Even at this eleventh hour, further tragedy could be easily averted by the government showing that it genuinely cares about local communities such as ours and stepping in with the money that will avert this catastrophe. To put further pressure on government to respond, can I encourage you to sign the community petition, which can be found at www.luton.gov.uk. The more people who sign it, the harder it will be for our cries to be ignored.”
 
While the proposals anticipate at least 365 posts being taken out of the organisation, a large proportion of these relate to its school meals service where the council expects many of its staff, who are mainly part-time, to be able to transfer directly to schools or other meal providers. The council will also prioritise deleting currently vacant posts and offer voluntary redundancies, reduced hours and flexible retirement across the organisation to limit the number of compulsory job losses.
 
Included in these proposals is a £500,000 saving from a review of the current senior leadership team structure, which currently has three vacancies.
 
Robin Porter, Chief Executive added: “I have never been more amazed and impressed by staff than at this current time. There are so many unsung heroes showing utter commitment to serving the people of Luton and working hard to improve the lives of residents.
 
“Knowing the utter dedication of officers has made a thankless task even more painful. To contemplate redundancies for people – and the ripple effect that will have on their families – is a real kick in the teeth. We have done all we can to limit the compulsory job cuts, but for each one that has to be made it represents unimaginable uncertainty and anxiety.
 
“There is no doubt that the whole of Luton is suffering a huge body blow. The economic impact of Covid-19 has already cut deep and will continue to do so. With job losses at the council and many other businesses throughout the town, there will be an increase in poverty to levels that will be hard to bear.
 
“Difficult though it may seem, I am confident that Luton will eventually come through these devastating cuts with confidence in the town unshaken and our resolve to find a better future for everyone undiminished.”
 
While proposals have now been published, the council continues to look for more money saving ideas up until 1 July when the final emergency budget papers are published. Please send in suggestions, comments and concerns to [email protected]
 
Visit www.luton.gov.uk/letstalk for more information (including the draft emergency budget details).
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