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Will we see more staff freezes to meet the financial challenge?

A staff freeze has been introduced at Devon County Council as local authorities propose increasingly radical measures to try to relieve financial pressures.

The council announced last week that it will not hire any more permanent staff, apart from roles which it has a statutory responsibility to fulfil.

Devon is set to overspend by £8.1m by the end of this financial year, largely due to an overspend of £6.4m in adult social care.

Cllr John Clatworthy, the deputy leader and finance chief, said the council had “absolutely no intention of not balancing the books”.

The freeze includes a ban on hiring temporary or agency staff or consultants, apart from frontline social workers, without the personal authorisation of Dr Phil Norrey, the council’s chief executive.

The proposals come as council coffers are emptying across the country, in large part due to the sharp rise in social care demand. In response to the concerns, Sajid Javid, the communities and local government secretary, promised an additional £900m in funding, but this was dismissed as a “sticking plaster” by councils.

The chairs of the Communities and Local Government, Health and Public Accounts committees have now called for an urgent cross-party review of the issue.

Councils are seeking increasingly drastic solutions to financial shortfalls, raising the prospect of more jobs freezes being established in other local authorities.

Jobs and services are already set to go across the country, with up to 1,000 to be cut at Wolverhampton alone, whilst Lancashire County Council will close services at more than 100 sites.

Unsurprisingly, there are reports of growing workplace stress as council staff struggle to do their jobs with restricted budgets and the fear of redundancy hanging over them.

A survey by Unison found that 62% of local government and school back-office staff are considering leaving their employer.

Dr Norrey told staff that he understood the changes would “place some additional pressure” on them, but that they needed to “take collective responsibility” for addressing the budget shortfall.

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