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Coventry at work: Public sector cuts begin to bite

Coventry at Work team

So what's the real story on public sector job losses as the biggest government spending squeeze for decades kicks in?

We are tracking public sector employment in Coventry to try to find out.

And we have a big update on what has been happening these last few months.

Between January and March this year, 369 public sector posts have closed across the city.

We have been getting jobs data from six public sector bodies, which represent 70% of public sector employment in the city.

We have also been doing some investigating ourselves and reckon we now have 95% of the picture.

It's the nitty-gritty detail behind the daily headlines.

In our first story back in March, we reported that there had been only 15 posts closed in the three months to the end of the December 2010.

Well, we have now established that the total was actually 355.

Or to put it another way, the total number of public sector job losses in Coventry since the Coalition's Spending Review of last October now stands at 724.

That's 2.3% of the total number of public sector jobs in Coventry, or 3.6% if you exclude university workers.

All in all, a lot of people have left their jobs.

The firing line

So where have the closures been?

Coventry is an interesting city when it comes to public sector employment. Not only does it have the usual number of council workers, NHS staff and teachers, it has a lot of government agencies - a mini-quango capital.

And they were the first in the firing line.

The agency to improve technology in schools, known as Becta, shut in March and another quango, the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency, is also in the process of being wound down.

A total of 237 posts disappeared from the offices of those two national quangos located in Coventry.

Another national body, the Skills Funding Agency, lost a total of 237 people through voluntary redundancy and early retirement schemes. It is in the process of being restructured.

At the start of 2011, the second wave of job losses came from Coventry City Council, as the effects of the reduction in its funding from Whitehall started to be felt.

A total of 183 posts have closed, spread right across the organisation. These were mainly workers who left through the voluntary redundancy programme.

We have a far from complete picture on the overall number of compulsory redundancies in the public sector across the city. All we can say is that the number is at least 35 for the period in question.

As we reported before, public sector bodies are still trying to redeploy workers into vacant posts so as to minimise redundancies.

But more job losses are expected.

Resilient city

So what has been the impact of these losses on Coventry so far?

It's clearly a very big deal if you are one of those people who have had to leave the public sector, even with a pay-off.

But this local economy seems to be proving fairly resilient, so far at least, in these tough times.

If you look at unemployment, the claimant count for people on Jobseeker's Allowance has been creeping upwards again.

From last October, the number is up by 657, from 9,765 to 10,422, a rise of almost 7%.

This number, of course, reflects people looking for work, whether they came from the public or private sector.

And there are some encouraging signs in the private sector.

As well as our jobs tracker, we have been following a big group of public sector workers and private sector companies in Coventry.

It's only a snapshot, but half of our companies have actually hired staff over the last three months, creating more than 400 new jobs. Twenty of their new recruits have come from the public sector.

I found that pretty striking.

The local Chamber of Commerce does its own survey work and it, too, is seeing some growth in jobs.

"The order books in many sectors are looking good," said Louise Bennett, its chief executive.

"Our members seem to not only be holding staff, but talking about recruiting as well. But it's still very fragile.

"We're still asking the government to be cautious about its cuts to public spending and for the Bank of England to think carefully before raising interest rates."

It's early days, then. Like so many other places, Coventry remains vulnerable. Watch this space for another update in three months' time.

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