UNEMPLOYED graduates and school leavers are volunteering to gain work experience at a council which has almost halved its workforce over the past four years.

Middlesbrough Council is adamant that unpaid helpers are not being used instead of salaried staff, but say some services were reliant on volunteers to ensure facilities, like libraries, could stay open.

From March 2010 to December 2014 staffing levels at Middlesbrough Council have fallen as a result of budget cuts by 42 per cent from 5,127 to 3,001 - a reduction of 869 staff members – through voluntary and compulsory redundancies as well retirements and resignations.

It has resulted in 528 women and 341 men 58 leaving their public sector jobs, of which compulsory redundancies accounted for 82 and 58 losses respectively.

Frontline posts have been culled by 35 per cent, compared to an overall reduction of 47 per cent in senior management positions.

A report produced for the council’s executive next Tuesday at Middlesbrough Town Hall, said that since 2011, 84 per cent of redundancies have been on a voluntary basis.

A separate document prepared for the same meeting revealed that there are 622 volunteers on the council’s books, of which the largest group falls within the 18 to 24 age bracket at 32 per cent followed by the 25 to 35 bracket at 19 per cent.

The majority of helpers offer their free time in community regeneration (205), archives (56), park friends’ groups (51) and libraries (45).

“A high proportion of council volunteers in libraries and museums are older or retired. However, in terms of overall numbers, there have been, and are, a number of younger volunteers, such as unemployed graduates or school leavers, who have volunteered in order to gain work experience,” the report explains.

“Members heard that there have been sensitivities around the use of volunteers in some service areas. Staff have, understandably expressed concerns that, in times of budget reductions, volunteers could be used to replace paid staff.

“They have, however, been used to enhance service provision and ensure that a service that a service that otherwise be closed or removed can be maintained. For example, some libraries would have closed without the use of volunteers to assist paid council staff.

“Some services are therefore now reliant on volunteers," the document adds.

It will be proposed at next week’s meeting that consideration is given to including a ‘volunteer of the year’ accolade in any future staff award schemes.