Newcastle council forced to slash jobs and close libraries

Council leader blames 'dark day for public services' on 'grossly unfair' cut to government grant

Newcastle city council has announced plans to reduce its budget by cutting at least 1,300 jobs, closing libraries around the city and taking other cost-saving measures.

The Labour-controlled authority, which is one of the largest employers in north-east England, placed much of the blame on a "grossly unfair" cut to its government grant and said that the move is designed to reduce its budget by £90m.

Ten of the city's 18 libraries will be closed under the proposals, which the council said was equal to a cut of £760 for each household in the city, while bin collections will move from weekly to fortnightly. As well as the job cuts, which will take place over three years, other measures will include closing a swimming pool and transferring responsibility for four leisure centres.

The leader of Newcastle city council, Nick Forbes, said: "This is one of the darkest days for public service in Newcastle. Cutting services is not what I went into politics to do."

Calling on residents to tell the council what they thought of the proposals, he added. "The cut in government grant is grossly unfair, at a time when more and more families are turning to us for help. Financially, this has put us in an impossible position from which there is no escape.

"We will not abandon the residents of this city but as we cease to provide some services they will have to do more for themselves and expect less from the council. Despite the tough choices we are forced to make, we will apply a fairness test to every decision by listening to residents and analysing future needs."

Forbes insisted Newcastle remained "a very ambitious city" focused on attracting and growing new businesses for employment, and would be pressing ahead with a capital programme designed to provide super-fast broadband, improved transport networks, new employment skills and affordable homes.

The £90m cut, which the council says it needs to achieve by 2016, is about one third of its total budget and will be subject to consultations running up to February next year.

A spokesman for the communities and local government department said: "Council funding is distributed in a fair and sustainable way across all parts of the country – rural and urban, metropolitan and shire and higher in those parts of the country with the highest level of need.

"This year's formula grant – the main general grant from government to local authorities – was on average £300 per head more in the north-east than the south-east with Newcastle receiving £653 per head, compared for example to £150 per head in Windsor and Maidenhead. The funding settlement for councils will be announced later this year."


Ben Quinn

The GuardianTramp

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