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By Christian Barnett – Local Democracy Reporter

As many as 200 jobs are set to go at the county council as the cash-strapped authority has asked staff if they want to take voluntary redundancy.

An email sent out by chief executive Paul Robinson told all of the authority’s 2,800 staff that they have until November to take up the offer as the council looks to save almost £18 million by March.

The council is also offering staff a ‘buy one hour get one free’ for additional leave over Christmas and New Year as well as proposing all non-frontline agency staff take a break during December in a bid to save more money.

Frontline council workers – including children’s social workers – have been told they cannot apply for voluntary redundancy.

A presentation made to staff said the council has already made a start on cuts and savings but needs to find another £5 million by next year.

Jim Price, secretary of Worcestershire’s Unison branch, said a lot of staff feel it is a “sign of panic” by the council.

He said: “The council might be saying that they are saving frontline services but it means a lot of office staff and a lot of the back office functions will just stop.

“That means areas such as quality control and health and safety will suffer because of that.”

Whilst the council has it worked with trade unions over the proposals, Mr Price said he was only made aware of the scheme two days before it was announced.

Bosses at Worcestershire County Council announced in September that the entire “shape and size” of the authority will be under review as it struggles to cope with the ever-increasing cost of social care.

The council has an annual net budget of more than £324 million of which more than two thirds is spent on safeguarding children and protecting vulnerable adults.

The council has also blamed government cuts to funding for the predicted overspend.

A 90-day consultation into the all of the county’s libraries has already been launched after plans were approved by cabinet last week. The council says it needs to save £1 million from the library budget and will look at shortening opening hours, sharing buildings and making libraries self-service.

The council also plans to save money by closing four of its children’s residential care homes.

A spokesman for Worcestershire County Council said: “We have announced a voluntary redundancy scheme to help us to address a projected in-year overspend of £5 million.

“The scheme will operate on the basis of staff having an opportunity to apply for voluntary redundancy. A number of roles are exempt including children’s social workers.

“It is expected that up to 200 full time equivalent staff will leave the council as part of the scheme, which we have discussed with our recognised trade unions.

“The council has promoted its current annual leave purchase scheme with a particular emphasis on the Christmas and New Year period.

“To encourage staff and as a flexible benefit, we are offering a ‘buy one hour, get one free’. This will provide a saving to the council but the amount is not known at this stage.

“The council is to propose a break for all agency staff (except front line) over Christmas and New Year.

“The details of these proposals, including the number of days break, are currently being developed.”

Staff who apply for voluntary redundancy will leave before the end of March next year.