LIBRARIES and youth clubs could close, hours of recycling centres may be shortened and street lights could be turned off while hundreds of jobs face the axe in some of the most savage Dorset County Council cutbacks for years to save a minimum of £30million.

With predicted funding cuts to the authority of between £27million and £40million over the next few years in the coalition government’s age of austerity, bosses at County Hall have begun a radical belt-tightening exercise which is likely to have far-reaching implications for communities.

A confidential document passed to the Dorset Echo outlines the first phase of the work and lists savings opportunities which council chiefs admit will be ‘unpalatable’.

Areas under review include highways and transport, the library service, streetlights, the youth service, household recycling centres and income from country parks.

Officers will also look at saving money on all areas of administration, publications, communications, and document storage as well as reducing the overall number of council buildings.

By implementing the cuts, the council is trying to avoid having a major impact on frontline services but it is warned that job cuts will be ‘inevitable’. In a further blow, councillors have been told that £30million may be only the beginning.

Dorset County Council employs around 16,000 full and part-time staff people including school workers.

Unions are preparing for intense negotiations in order to head off massive redundancies. No figures on job cuts have been mentioned but unions believe it will be at least ‘hundreds’.

They are also concerned about changes to the redundancy policy which would see the multiplier reduced so employees would be paid 1.25 weeks for every year they have worked – down from 2.5.

Unions are planning a Support the Public Sector rally at the Corn Exchange in Dorchester in October in response to government cuts.

Dorset County Council hopes to shed jobs through ‘natural wastage’ and voluntary redundancies before forcing people out.

Chief executive David Jenkins and senior managers will be carrying out detailed work on the proposed cuts over the summer before final decisions are taken in October.

In a confidential report to councillors, Mr Jenkins says the current forecast of the budget gap between 2011/12 and 2013/14 is between £27million and £40million – around 10-15 per cent of the council’s budget.

The Meeting Our Future Challenges Review referred to in the confidential report has identified potential savings of £30,039,275 which falls short of the £40million upper target of 15 per cent.

In a grim warning for councillors, Mr Jenkins says in the report: “The scale of the challenge means that the council will need to cut out activities that are non-critical even though they may be desirable.

“The new period of austerity is a real opportunity for the council to reshape its approach to service delivery. All non-critical work must be faced with the challenge of stopping it.”

Mr Jenkins, who received £200,000 last year in pay, pensions and benefits, says most of the savings in the report can be made by delivering a service at a lower cost but ‘inevitably’ some services will be cut.

He adds: “Most of these are inevitably contentious, for example closure of public libraries, reconfiguration of day care or reduction in the opening hours of household waste sites.”

The council says it has been preparing for budget reductions before the Chancellor George Osborne announced spending cuts across the public sector.

The cuts are announced just as Dorset County Council comes to the end of its three-year Fit for the Future efficiency programme which saved £18million.

Council leader Angus Campbell said the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review will squeeze the authority much harder. He said it would be a question in the future of ‘doing more with less’.

He said: “We will be looking at all areas of the council for savings. The challenge is to minimise the impact on service delivery.”

Coun Campbell said the council should be judged on its record as an employer.

He added: “It is inevitable that the savings required will mean a reduction in posts and staff employed.

“Our staff play a vital role in delivering services and we are committed to supporting them through the changes.”

A meeting of all councillors will debate budget reductions on Thursday July 22. The council’s cabinet will consider recommendations for savings on Friday, July 30.