A LEADER of a Teesside town has warned tough times and job losses lie ahead in the coming years.

Bob Cook, leader of Stockton Borough Council, told The Northern Echo that a 3.5 per cent deficit needed to be dealt with in the coming budget and a further £15m of cuts need to be made in the next two years.

But in a New Year’s message he vowed that the authority would do everything he could to protect the most vulnerable.

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He also said that further investment would be made in Stockton and Billingham town centres.

Coun Cook, the Labour leader whose party is in coalition with Ingleby Barwick Independents, said that difficult decisions lay ahead and the authority will have lost 40 per cent of its budget from 2010 to 2016.

The council already employs 600 fewer people and cut back more than £20m but still must make further cuts of at least £15m in the next two years.

He said: “There will be more jobs lost in the next few years. We keep making efficiencies but by 2016 we will have lost £40m from our budget.

"I’ve been a councillor since 1987 and seen a lot of changes and recessions but this time it really is councils who are bearing the brunt. There are very tough decisions ahead but, as councillors, that’s what we’re elected to do.”

Coun Cook explained that there is an on-going assessment where savings can be made and it is hoped efficiency savings may yet still be made in the Adult, Child and Waste Management services.

On a more hopeful note he pointed to on-going investment in improving Stockton High Street where it is hoped private investors will continue to come forward. Improvements are also planned for Billingham Town Centre in the coming year with a new library and council contact point for the public planned.

He said it was too early to say whether the council would accept the Government offer for a grant totalling one per cent of the budget in return for a council tax freeze.

Coun Cook said the Government grant offer had come late this year and finance officers were still working out the details. However, special cabinet meetings would be held in the coming weeks to help thrash out a budget.

“We will do everything we can to protect the most vulnerable,” he said.