COUNCIL chiefs have agreed an initial plan to make £12.5 million cuts over the next two years — which could see 239 authority jobs axed.

A meeting of the council’s cabinet saw members agree to the plan, which will see the authority dig into its cash reserves for the first time — allotting £30 million over the next two years in a bid to avoid having to make further savings.

Detailed proposals of how and where jobs will be cut are yet to be developed, but it is currently thought that 239 posts will be affected.

The council currently has 441 vacant posts, although more than half of these are considered to be ‘business critical’ and are currently covered by agency staff.

At the meeting, council leader Cliff Morris reiterated his ambition to avoid any compulsory redundancies in the latest round of cuts.

He said: “We have so far managed to avoid compulsory redundancies in previous budgets despite heavy cuts and we will adopt that policy again.

“We will take out vacancies where we can and employ agency staff where we need them.”

Tory leader Cllr David Greenhalgh, who has called for the use of reserves to mitigate savings in the past, questioned the timing of the plan to use £30 million from the coffers.

He said: “When we have suggested this before, we were told that it is just delaying a saving that needs to be made in the future.

“Now it is going to be used to help ‘cash flow’ — what has changed in a year?”

Responding, borough treasurer Sue Johnson said it was ‘the right time’ to use reserve funding to tide the budget process over and help the authority to understand what position it will be in when plans for authorities to retain 100 per cent of locally collected business rates are introduced before the next Parliament.

Senior Labour councillor Nick Peel used the cabinet meeting to voice his anger at what he feels are continuing harsh cuts in funding to local government budgets.

He said: “This is the sixth time we have done one of these really harsh budgets against a backdrop of massive cuts.

“Local government is consistently being hacked at by central government and again it is city region councils in the north of the country that are suffering the most again.”

He added: “We are now at the point where if we were not to use the £30 million from our reserves, we simply would not be able to run the vital services that the people of this town need.”

Full details of the specific areas being targeted for savings in the council’s latest budget will be published in The Bolton News on Friday.