Fears over impact of Norfolk County Council job losses

Fears were raised last night about the devastating impact that public-sector job cuts will have on Norfolk's economy amid doubts that private firms will be able to pick up the slack.

Norfolk County Council is to axe 750 full-time equivalent posts in the coming year, which could actually see up to 1,000 full and part-time staff out of work from April. The reduction is part of a three-year plan to lose 1,300 jobs.

County Hall has set aside �20m in redundancy payments to cover the job losses over the next two years and early indications suggest that the largest numbers of jobs to go will be in the council's children's services teams where 470 post are earmarked for the axe including frontline social workers, social care managers, youth workers and staff in the youth-offending team.

There will be 108 posts cut in the environment, planning and transport teams, 96 in adult social services, 41 in cultural services, including libraries and museums, and 35 from the corporate resources department.

A further 1700 posts will be transferred to the county's commercial offshoot Norse.

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And in an added blow to the public sector, the government's shake-up of the NHS which will see primary care trusts and strategic health authorities scrapped could have implications for more than 500 health staff working for NHS Norfolk and NHS Great Yarmouth and Waveney as it emerged that 24,500 jobs could be lost nationally in a �1bn overhaul, which could still see up to 70pc of staff taken on under the new GP-led set-up.

The job cuts are part of the coalition government's drive to rein in the public sector to cut Britain's spiralling deficit and the county council's attempt to manage the funding squeze.

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But yesterday it emerged that the number of people claiming unemployment benefits in Norfolk rose to an eight month high in December, sparking fears that the economy does not have the capacity to absorb the looming public sector job cuts, while council plans to slash capital spending on schemes such as road repairs and school upgrades has also sparked fears that private firms will be hit by a double whammy.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics showed 16,252 people were claiming Jobseeker's Allowance in the county on December 9, up from 15,994 in November.

Last night members of Unison voiced their fears about the council cuts at a meeting at County Hall, while nationally the union warned that the cuts would hit private firms dependent on public sector contracts warning that the private sector was no 'knight on a white chariot' waiting to come to the rescue.

And Laurie Heselden, regional policy officer, TUC East of England, said the cuts were grim news for everyone in the county.

'It is obviously devastating for those workers and families that will lose their income at these difficult times and it is grim news for businesses, especially local small businesses,' Mr Heseldon said. 'Job losses on this scale can take tens of millions of pounds out of a local economy. Analysis shows that it is discretionary spending that is hit hardest, so pubs, cafes, restaurants, hotels, gyms, wedding shops, cinemas, car dealerships should all be worried. But the impact of job losses on this scale reduces demand across the sectors from construction to tourism. No sector is immune.'

'The worst news of all is that analysis by trade unions suggest that these one thousand job losses at Norfolk County Council are the first wave not the last, and a further two thousand job losses at Norfolk County Council will follow as a consequence of the Government's austerity programme. Frankly, these job losses are not inevitable, not necessary, not fair and they are economically illiterate. No Government in history, responsible for an economy like ours, has cut its way out of a recession.'

Caroline Williams, chief executive of the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, said private sector businesses will find it tough to absorb the job losses in the public sector and called on the government to help by cutting red tape.

'The pressure on the private sector to pick up the shortfall will be significant,' she said. 'Onerous regulations, such as the recent rules relating to paternity leave also risk making the jobless total higher as they are a real burden on small businesses.'

'The news of Norfolk County Council job cuts comes on day of disappointing labour market figures which were once again slightly worse than expected,' she said. 'While longer term trends still show that employment remains relatively robust this news highlights the challenges facing Norfolk in the months ahead.

'There is a question mark as to whether the skills secured within the public sector are what will be are required for the new jobs which will be created within the private sector made up mainly of small businesses.'

Martin Lake, vice chairman of the Norfolk Federation of Small Businesses, said: 'There will be a knock-on effect on smaller businesses, but if the government really wants small and medium sized businesses to pick up the people coming out of the public sector then the amount of red tape needs reducing to make it easier for them to take it on.

'It's quite a different dynamic being in the private sector, but there are skills coming out which are valuable and I would like to see the two move closer together.'

Kevan Williams, post graduate lecturer at Norwich Business School, suggested that staff losing their jobs would be well placed to find work because of the levels of skills and experience they had.

'It's absolutely horrible for the individual and the organisation and the people who get left behind. but we have a big skills shortage in Norfolk and there was a situation a couple of years ago when private companies couldn't recruit good people,' Dr Williamsn said. 'I wouldn't want to get peoples' hopes up but these are educated and skilled people and in the months ahead I am sure they will find opportunities to go to other good jobs as the private sector grows and there will be demand for these people.'

County council leader Derrick Murphy said that the scale of the change needed meant that compulsory job losses were unavoidable.

'I acknowledge the pain this will cause for staff and their families,' Mr Murphy said. 'We will do our upmost to manage these reductions with as few compulsory redundancies as possible. However compulsory redundancies will be necessary to achieve the speed of transformation we seek and balance the council's books. There is an inevitable cost associated with that, which is reflected in the proposed budget set out in the cabinet paper.'

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