MORE than 1,000 council staff in Somerset could lose their jobs over the next three years as Somerset Council seeks to cut its wage bill by £40m.

The council is embarking upon a radical transformation programme, which is designed to streamline the delivery of its services and generate significant savings for Somerset taxpayers.

The council launched a voluntary redundancy programme, which will close on March 24, in a bid to reduce a hefty bill from compulsory redundancy payments.

Decisions on which staff which lose their jobs will be taken towards the end of April, with the council hoping the reduction in staff will help avoid a  budget gap of more than £137m by early-2027.

The full council voted in May 2023 to approve redundancy payments of around £5.2m for a total of 29 senior officers – with the promise that the savings generated from a reduction in posts would be repaid within two years.

The transformation programme was debated at length by the council’s corporate and resource scrutiny committee when it met in Taunton on Thursday morning (March 7).

The programme, which will run over a 12-month period, is intended to complement other efforts to streamline the council’s operation, including the sale of unwanted land, property and assets.

Around 20 per cent of the current workforce will be exempt from the transformation programme, including planning officers and other departments which already relate on agency workers or locum staff.

Councillor Simon Coles (who represents the Taunton East division) warned that the cost and extent of transformation could quickly get out of hand, citing his own experience following the creation of Somerset West and Taunton Council in April 2019.

The district council – formed from the merger of Taunton Deane Borough Council and West Somerset Council – ended up spending more than £5.6m on redundancies, including that of its chief executive Penny James.

Mr Coles said: “I’ve still got the scars from a previous voluntary redundancy programme, which went over budget by a factor of four or thereabouts.

“We need to keep tight controls on that and ensure we keep the qualified staff who provide vital services to the public.”