More top jobs to go at Fenland Council as work begins on finding an extra �3.4 million worth of savings over four years

TWO more executives at Fenland District Council are set to lose their jobs bringing the senior management squad down to just six compared to 11 a year ago.

Earlier this year the senior management team was reduced to eight following the departure of chief executive Tim Pilsbury but this could now be reduced further as part of radical cost saving measures.

The council, faced with making of �3.4 million worth of savings in the next four years on top of �2 million already saved in the past 12-18 months, has decided staff cuts must start at the top.

But councillors have been assured that 94 per cent of the expected savings will come from the ‘back office’ leaving front line services substantially protected.

Details were announced to councillors last Thursday and revealed in a special press briefing on Tuesday by Council Leader Alan Melton and corporate director Rob Bridge.

Cllr Melton also revealed that Council Tax next year will be frozen and this could extend to the following year if efficiencies and savings can be found.

Talks with neighbouring councils, including Huntingdonshire and East Cambs, about sharing some services may open as the council faces up to reduced income in the light of Prime Minister David Cameron’s reform of local government.

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Mr Bridge said of the forthcoming spending cuts: “All are achievable- in reality they have to be achieved.”

Vacancies at Fenland Hall have been frozen, income streams – in the light of lower interest rates on investments, lower planning fees and reduced income from leisure services- reduced, and the council is making savings of up to �250,000 a year through better purchasing.

“The comprehensive spending review announced by the Government is in fact challenging everything we do,” said Mr Bridge.

Cllr Melton said capital spending pledged by his predecessor, Councillor Geoff Harper, was still in place including money spent, for instance, on Wisbech Boathouse; South Fens Business Centre, Chatteris; King Edward Centre, Chatteris; improvements to leisure centres in Wisbech and Whittlesey; and �400,000 committed to a new community facility at the Thomas Clarkson Community College, Wisbech.

However �1.5 million pledged to the College of West Anglia’s new March campus (now abandoned) was still up in the air whilst councillors decide if the money can be spent on the existing Wisbech campus. That decision will be made in a fortnight.

He refused to be drawn on how he will vote but insisted he remained “very much committed to the principle of investing in skills in Fenland”.

Cllr Melton said the �22 million netted from the sale of the council’s housing stock to Roddons formed the essential part of the capital fund and �8 million of it uncommitted.

However he pointed out that matched funding had generated an additional �8.5 million towards projects in Fenland “which is money that would not have come into the district had we not put up the capital to finance these schemes”.

Cllr Melton said the council would not be rushed into selling development land such as that alongside the Nene in Wisbech and would wait for the market to improve to ensure best value.

“This is not a slash and burn authority,” he said. “What we will be deciding is our priorities, and deciding the staff levels we need to carry them through.”

Councillors would be given lists of services which the council were obliged by law to provide and those which are viewed as discretionary- the latter including such areas as parks, leisure, tourism, community events, markets and fairs, CCTV, and even car parks.

“Members will have a choice – that means if necessary to disinvest in any of these discretionary services,” he said.

“The public out there is expecting us to run a lean business and we will do just that.”

Mr Bridge said how the Government cuts would affect the council’s annual �17-18 million budget would become clearer in coming months. Central Government funding formulas to local councils were still uncertain.

Some grants have been reduced, others cut altogether and now formulas for distributing business rates were being discussed. There was also the possibility extra cash could come from a new homes bonus scheme and a ‘rural premium’ to aid councils such Fenland.

By February next year, when they set their budget for 2011/12, Council Tax payers across Fenland will know finally where they stand.

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