Norfolk County Council could shed up to 3,000 jobs in massive cuts shake-up

Vital county council services for every Norfolk resident have been placed under threat in a massive shake-up which will see the authority shed 3,000 staff from its workforce in a mixture of job losses and outsourcing.

Uncertainty surrounds the fate of virtually every County Hall service in its current form as the ruling Tory administration today embarks on a 'Big Conversation' over plans to bridge a �155m funding shortfall which will see the authority pared back to provide a minimum 'safety net' for the most vulnerable.

The administration is seeking the views of all Norfolk residents for its plans to shrink in size to meet the expected 7.1pc a year cuts outlined by chancellor George Osborne in last week's compre-hensive spending review and is also testing the waters on plans which could effectively create a 'DIY county' if other bodies such as voluntary groups, parish and district councils, private firms and even individuals are prepared to step in to provide services instead.

But in a sign of emerging grassroots concern at the direction the coalition government is taking, the cuts were described as a 'horror story' by the opposition Liberal Democrats.

Nearly a third of council staff will be affected by the changes, with 1,700 who work in adult social care being transferred to Norse, the authority's commercial wing, and the remaining 1,300, facing the very real prospect of redundancy.

Proposed cuts in council services include:

�6m a year on spending on prevention services for older people;

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�1.2m by cutting subsidies to the meals on wheels service;

�4m scrapping funding for youth services which supports up to 20,000 children;

�2.4m a year cuts to look after children in care;

�2m by scrapping subsidy for school and college transport for over 16s – leaving parents and carers to pick up �784 a year bill;

�1.3m cuts to family support work including help to reduce teenage pregnancies;

�2m from the park and ride budget, which could see some sites closed;

�2m by reducing the size of the core bus network and relying on more 'dial-a-ride' services particularly in rural areas.

Fees for museums and adult education courses would also rise, while library staff numbers and adult education staff will be cut and the frequency of mobile library visits will also be reduced from every three weeks to four. Volunteers could also be sought to work in libraries.

As previously reported in the EDP the council is also actively considering privatising its adoption service, and is also looking at tightening up the 'eligibility criteria' affecting 35,000 older people receiving care by a switch to 'critical only'.

The authority also hopes to talk to other councils about sharing office space, possibly by colocating in libraries and also wants to see if schools and community groups are willing to look after nature reserves, while there would be a 'substantial cut' in countryside path cutting.

Ian Mackie, deputy council leader said the scale of the cuts facing the council required a 'quantum change' in thinking about what the authority does and this would also see the authority scale back its ambitions to focus on five key areas.

But critics fear the Tories are in danger of rushing into an ideological crusade to help the coalition government create a smaller state.

Mr Mackie said the administration was looking at a 'diversity of approaches' to help focus on the core frontline.

'We will be moving to a more enabling role,' Mr Mackie said. 'We will be targeting all our resources to the frontline, which provides services to vulnerable adults and children, and key infrastructure projects.

'There will be things in here, which people may blanch at, but it's certainly not ideologically driven. We want the safety net to be there, that's the priority for the county council. Some things may be outsourced, some things may be worked up with a private/public partnership, some things will be moved to the voluntary sector.

'Exceptional times demand an exceptional response and only a fundamental reform of what the county council does and the way in which it does it will do.

'I know people will have strong views about how these proposals might affect them and there will be an opportunity for people to express their opinions, but equally there are some very big issues about the future of our authority which we are keen to hear from Norfolk residents about.'

Paul Morse, leader of the opposition Liberal Democrats, said: 'It's important not to underestimate the challenge the county council faces. What this does show is the stark reality of the impact on people of the route that the coalition is following to reduce the deficit. In places the potential cuts just reads like a horror story.

'A consultation process that ends just before they are going to be making decisions does suggest me there is a risk they do not need to listen.'