95 redundancies on the cards as Bedford Council sets its budget

Councillors in Bedford have overwhelmingly passed a budget which could see 95 redundancies and increases the borough’s part of the council tax by 3.74 per cent.

By David Tooley, local democracy reporter
Thursday, 4th February 2021, 4:18 pm

Only two Green councillors, who sat on their hands during the vote on Wednesday, did not support the budget which was backed by the Lib Dems, Labour and the Conservatives.

Cllr Michael Headley (Lib Dem, Putnoe) the council’s finance portfolio holder, said he hopes the final figure will be fewer than 95 redundancies. A reorganisation is due to create 30 new roles.

Cllr Headley said: “We are expecting 65 per cent of savings to come from areas that don’t require redundancies, however some of the savings do result in reduced posts.

“We are estimating that there will be 95 redundant posts this year. We don’t do this lightly and we are very concious of the impact this will have on people.”

He said the council has a voluntary redundancy programme, plans to redeploy some people and some of the job losses will come from unfilled vacancies.

Nevertheless he said that the budget is robust and protects the needs of the most vulnerable.

“It is strong enough to meet whatever challenges come our way,” he said.

Budget supremo Cllr Headley

He and other councillors pointed to a reduction of £24 million in help from Whitehall since 2015 and a need to save £10.9 million in the next financial year.

Presenting his 12th budget as mayor, Dave Hodgson (Lib Dem) said that it “hasn’t got any easier” with a growing “crisis” in adult social care drawing in more and more money as the population ages.

Tory group leader Graeme Coombes (Wilshamstead) recognised a lack of financial support from central Government.

He added that his group would support the budget because of backing for a new railway station for Wixams, and commitments for domestic violence and mental health services.

The only challenge on the night came from Green party Castle ward councillors Lucy Bywater and Ben Foley.

Cllr Bywater asked if jobs and services could be protected by reducing the pay of more senior people.

Cllr Headley said they are about to embark on another round of management restructuring, following £3m of cuts to costs.

He revealed the council has 140 people earning salaries of more than £50,000 compared to 282 in Central Beds and 318 in Green-controlled Brighton.

And he added that Bedford’s number had been cut from 156.

“I am not really going to take lessons from the Green party,” he said, to which Cllr Bywater replied that her party had not been leading Brighton for very long.

Cllr Foley opposed what he saw as the “pretence” that there would not have to be service cuts.

He said: “I find it very regrettable that there has been such a degree of dissembling by members of this council in that respect.”

The two Greens abstained from voting on the budget, which was passed without votes against.

It sets a budget of £121.787 million, with £95.449 million coming from council tax payers. It means an average Band D council tax of £1,624.14.