UNIONS fear more than 1,000 jobs could be axed to help plug a Dorset County Council financial black hole that has spiralled to £58million.

The authority says its savings target of £48.6million over a three-year period has now shot up by almost £10million.

Unions fear the latest rise could result in the loss of up to 1,000 posts over the next three years. It has already been confirmed that 500 jobs will go in the coming year.

In November unions predicted 750 posts would be lost in total but they are now upping that estimate to 1,000 following the revised savings target.

A council spokesman refused to confirm or deny the 1,000 figure but admitted the authority does not know how many posts could now be axed.

Initial estimates last July predicted a minimum of £30million would be required to cope with government funding cuts, The current estimate is now almost double that.

Last month councillors backed plans to save £48.6million over a three-year period.

This included saving £27million in 2011/2012.

That figure has now risen to £33.8million.

The latest figures were revealed in a letter to the unions from the human resources department at Dorset County Council which has been passed to the Dorset Echo.

In the letter the head of human resources Sheralyn Huntingford said: “In our medium-term financial strategy we had estimated a need for budget savings of £48.6million over the three-year period 2011/12 to 2013/14, with £27milion savings required in 2011/12.

“With the new pressures agreed at the county council meeting on December 15 and with the loss of grants, the savings target for the county council has grown to £57.7million over the next three years with £33.8million savings required in 2011/12.”

Gary Pattison, Dorset branch secretary of the GMB union, said there’s no reason to doubt this figure could rise again. He said: “As far as I am concerned there is no guarantee that the figures will stay as they are.

“Every time there’s a change in the figures there’s a potential change to the amount of job losses and the effect on public services. We are just watching the figures and they are just going up and up and there’s no indication of where this will end.”

He added that the figures county council has given for the amount of job losses are ‘dubious’ when the amount of savings that need to be made has now increased.

Dorset County Council has said that 500 full-time posts will go in 2010/2011.

However, it does not yet know how many posts will go in the second and third year.

Mr Pattison believes that more than 1,000 posts could be lost.

He said: “Over the three-year period I am fairly certain there will be in excess of 1,000 posts will be lost.

“Originally it would have been much less but at this stage I am confident over 1,000 will go.”

Pamela Jefferies, secretary of the Dorset branch of Unison, said: “These new figures put huge pressure on staff.

“More jobs will go and I think they will try to make staff pay for the cuts and we’re talking about low-paid staff.

“The majority of our members earn under £21,000 a year.

“It’s the government that is doing this to us but it’s the council who are trying to make council staff pay for the mismanagement and the mistakes of the bankers.”

* A Dorset County Council spokesman confirmed that the latest savings target was £57.7million over a three-year period, including a savings target of £33.8million in 2011/2012.

He said: “Overall, the council is £6.1million worse off in 2011/12 than we had anticipated. We had previously estimated a need for savings of £48.6million over the next three years, with £27million savings required in 2011/12.

“With the loss of grant funding added to the proposed savings agreed at the county council meeting on December 15, our savings target has now grown to £57.7million over the next three years, with £33.8million savings required in 2011/12.

“So far, we have identified savings amounting to £39million over three years, of which £27.1million falls in 2011-12.

“Overall, we now need to make further savings of £18.7million over the next three years of which £6.7million is required in 2011-12.”