CUTS of nearly £40 million will have to be made within just 12 months at Bolton Council to off-set the devastating financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic, The Bolton News can exclusively reveal today.

Town hall chiefs say they have no choice but to draw up the biggest cost-cutting programme in more than a decade.

Details of how the savings will be achieved are still being ironed out ­— but “everything is up for consideration” say the council, which is warning that if action is not taken the local authority could effectively be declared bankrupt and face control being taken over.

The coronavirus pandemic is said to have created “the perfect storm” in finances, with Bolton Council already facing tough financial decisions pre-covid.

A report detailing which services will be impacted by the cuts is due to be published at the end of next month to go out to consultation.

But alarm has already been raised about the huge scale of cuts, with union chiefs fearing it will result in ‘mass job losses’ ­— and Labour saying the cuts could lead to whole sections of council services being shut down.

The Bolton News:

Bolton Council faces making cutbacks every year,but this is the first time in many years, if ever, it has to slice such a staggering figure off its budget in just one year.

It was already facing making £26.5 million of savings during 2020-22, which although challenging was thought to be achievable, with £10 million being taken out of the budget this year.

But huge revenue losses by the pandemic mean that now £39.5 million has to slashed off the budget with £37.2 million cuts having to be made next year.

The covid crisis has cost Bolton Council millions through loss of business rates, council tax receipts, parking charges and the loss of the annual dividend of around £6m from the Manchester Airport Group and other income streams ­— and in supporting the effort to control the pandemic.

The Bolton News:

Leader of the Council Cllr David Greenhalgh (pictured above) said: “We realise this is a very worrying time for staff, and residents will understandably be concerned about how this will impact on services.

“We are going to have to find new ways of working, we are going to have to find new delivery models and have to do it with less.

“I will be presenting the case and challenges we find ourselves in to the Government. I think because of the challenges we face, we will be disproportionately hit. I am duty bound to make sure Government is aware of this, and commit to lobbying for extra help.

“It will only be a one off settlement and not a commitment for every year ahead, but I will be lobbying the communities secretary and the treasury for additional support.”

Cllr Greenhalgh added: “We genuinely want to work with the unions and we have brought them in at a very early stage.

“We called a meeting and went through the whole process in the spirit of openness and transparency.

“I urge everyone to get involved to look at new ways in which we can deliver and still retain that quality of service. That is the whole point of having not only an effective but inclusive consultation and, although it is an incredibly difficult time, we really hope that staff, residents, and businesses will take part in consultations and we want to hear from them.”

Council officers are exploring ways to mitigate the impact of the cuts, including approaching Greater Manchester Combined Authority for the return of council contributions to help with cashflow, and new ways of working, highlighted during the pandemic. And council reserves are no longer enough to help balance the books.

Cllr Greenhalgh said: “I certainly hope we can get some reserves coming back from GM, but again it is a one-off, but it will be a cushion for us. This is our money after all, this is our business rates retention, our waste reserves – we have a right to it.

“I think there has to be a re-evaluation of priorities at Greater Manchester at this time and certainly the priority has to come back in helping local authorities because we are facing some incredibly difficult decisions.

“GM does want to press ahead with some schemes, which may be at this time pushed down the road – is there a case at the moment to press ahead with the multi million pound proposals involved in bus reform, given the situation we face with public transport and with such an uncertain future?

"It is incredibly important but is it a priority at the moment given what is happening with public transport in general and the pressures we face locally within our budgets. We need those honest discussions at GM level.”

The Bolton News:

Chief Executive Tony Oakman (pictured above) said: “This is the toughest I have ever experienced it in my 35 years in public sector.

“We have got brilliant people who are working incredibly hard and we have a responsibility to be honest with our dedicated staff.

“We have statutory duties and we would not compromise these at any cost.

“There are some things where we have a statutory duty for but how you deliver those services are up for negotiation and consideration.

“There are lots of different ways of organising services, whether it is shared services with another council, or whether it is going in partnership with the Third Sector and so on. We are looking at all options and it is not just about the private sector.

“It doesn’t matter which party is in control, the same level of savings would have to be found.

“As chief executive, the responsibility is to secure, with political leaders’ support, the best outcome within the resources available.”

'Dipping into reserves is no longer an option'

The Bolton News:

Borough treasure Sue Johnson said: “We will need to get the savings out in one year, we do not have the reserves available to spread or defer as we have done with previous budget strategies.

“Quite rightly the administration has taken the view that reserves are there to be used to fund some of the in year budget pressures and get through some difficult decisions, but of course every time you do that those reserves reduce. Our reserve position has significantly reduced because of pressures and covid.

“We do not have the money anymore to release from reserves to defer any cuts. The money we have is to manage demand pressures, general contingencies and the risk the council faces.”

'Fears over mass job losses'

The Bolton News:

Unison’s Bolton branch secretary Andrea Egan (pictured above) said the cuts would have a devastating impact.

She said: “If those figures are correct then you can only predict what kind of devastation those kind of cuts will have on the service my members provide.

“Those kind of figures would equate to mass job losses so therefore loss of the services we provide.

“The knock on effect for the town businesses would be devastating because those workers will not be drawing on a wage to spend locally in the town.

“You can’t manage cuts of that magnitude you can only fight them, if the figures are true, then I would hope that Cllr Greenhalgh joins with other leaders in local authorities and indeed some of what the Red Wall Tory MPs are doing and tell this incompetent Government enough is enough.

“When people pay their council tax they expect to get what they pay for, public services. "

'Whole section of council services could be shut down'

The Bolton News:

Cllr Nick Peel, (pictured above) said: “If Bolton Council had not had to endure 10 years of swinging cuts, then we might, just might, be able to weather this storm. However, this won't be possible.

"The decade of cuts have left this council, and all others, in an extremely vulnerable position.

“If indeed the figure is around £40 million to remove in one year, then I doubt very much that this will be achievable without whole sections of council services being shut down.

"Services like Public Health and Adult Social Care must be protected at all costs, yet these vital services will themselves be facing cuts, which will add to the already growing anger over the Government handling of the crisis.

“The Government needs to come up with a plan of action to stop this from happening, or we will face the injustice and immorality of throwing hundreds of staff out of work who have been at the forefront of fighting the pandemic. Put simply, this is not acceptable.”