Plymouth City Council has lost 3,966 staff since 2010
NEW figures show Plymouth has lost thousands of public sector jobs, fuelling fears for the city's economy.
Statistics from the GMB union show the number of people working at Plymouth City Council alone has dropped by 3,966, to 8,847, between the start of 2010 and the middle of this year.
The decline, a 31 per cent reduction, is part of a wider loss of public sector employment across other sectors and the rest of the South West.
The GMB, which analysed Office of National Statistics data, said there are 86,000 fewer South West public sector workers since the last general election, with 51,200 fewer in local government and warns of more to come from health authorities and councils facing budget challenges next year.
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The union is blaming the Coalition Government's austerity measures for the cuts.
But the figures include jobs that have moved out of local authority control, such as in education when schools become academies, and therefore have not turned to redundancies.
And it comes as the most recent figures show UK unemployment has fallen to 2.51million, its lowest for more than a year, and Plymouth's claimant count dropped to 6,257 from 6,813 a year previously.
Dr Steven Brand, head of economics and regional development at Plymouth University said: "I think the figures have to be taken cautiously.
"Around one in three of the stated job losses in the public sector at a UK level are as a result of a reclassification of staff from the public to private sector within FE (further education) and sixth-form college corporations."
But he stressed that while sources suggest the private sector may have absorbed a "significant proportion" of the actual public sector losses, questions remain on whether these jobs are of at least equal quality to those lost.
"The employment data tends to suggest not," he said. "Between the start of 2010 and the same period in 2012 up to 3,500 full-time posts are estimated to have been lost in the city whilst there has been a gain in part-time employment of around 3,000.
"Self-employment seems to have risen over the period – although the quality of that activity is rather difficult to assess.
"On balance I would say that, whilst we have not seen the dramatic increase in joblessness we perhaps expected at the start of the financial crisis, the city economy has probably weakened over the last few years."
And Dr Brand, an associate professor of economics, warned: "Given the continued weakness of the global economy and Plymouth's isolation from central markets, it is difficult to see how and when that strength will be regained."
GMB's figures show the number of South West public sector employees fell from 549,000 to 463,000 between 2010 and 2012 – a 15.7 per cent drop.
The numbers working in local authorities fell from 213,200 to 162,000, which is 24 per cent down.
Devon Council lost the most, 8,318 workers. Plymouth's figure was the fourth highest.
The UK public sector shrank from 6,323,000 to 5,664,000, or by 10.4 per cent too.
John Phillips, GMB regional secretary, blamed the Government for a "savage decimation of public services".
"The scale of the fall in public sector employees so far now outstrips the last two recessions in 1982-87 and 1992-97," he said. "Of this a huge number are from priority services like health, social services education and the police.
"There is still more to come as health authorities and councils are facing significant new budget challenges next year."
Plymouth City Council stressed its workforce had shrunk due to several factors, but said "the main one" was 11 schools gaining Academy status.
It said other reasons included natural turnover, staff transferring to other organisations and new ways of working.
But a spokesman said: "Due to the Government's Spending Review we have also needed to make significant budget savings from our workforce in 2011.
"We announced reducing our workforce by 500 posts over three years – streamlining terms and conditions, not backfilling posts and restructuring departments including the senior management team, have all contributed to this and we have achieved this ahead of the three years.
"We have minimised compulsory redundancies where ever possible through a voluntary release scheme and redeployment."