NORTH Devon Council estimates it will have to axe 50 jobs over the next four years due to Government spending cuts. The council, which employs 525 workers, said that most would be lost through retirement and natural wastage and that £400,000 worth of savings had already been identified through consultations with staff. Workers across all departments are being kept informed about planned cutbacks at a number of special staff briefing sessions, the North Devon Gazette has learned. A meeting was held at the Brynsworthy Environment Centre on Monday following earlier briefings at the Civic Centre on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday last week. Provided we get it right and as long as there are no major surprises, we should lose no more than 50 jobs over the next four years, said council leader Des Brailey. Clearly in some areas we have to be more circumspect but we are not looking at any enforced redundancies. We cant easily afford to lose a lot of jobs in the public sector because it will not help the local economy. These jobs make up a huge part of the areas economy and to decimate that would only increase the number of people claiming benefits. The message to staff now is the same as it was 18 months ago; all along, we have said that protecting frontline services is paramount and if we get it right, the changes should all be transparent to the general public. Cllr Brailey said that the council had been looking at staffing positions for the last two years and that service management teams had been given a mandate to only replace essential personnel. He said the council normally began looking ahead to the following years budget in November, but this year, work on next years forecasts started in July. Managers across all departments have been set targets of reducing their budget and making savings of 12 per cent, said Cllr Brailey. All have responded positively and all come back this week with ways of saving money. We are on course to make the savings without any major dramas but we need to keep our noses to the grindstone and get on with it. Cllr Brailey said a decision to cancel lease cars next April for 50 members of staff including the new chief executive had been unpopular, but would save £150,000. People dont want to lose a perk they are used to receiving but most have accepted it, he said. We will be offering those with lease cars an amount of money to help them to buy a car so it wont make a big impact on savings in the first year but its another way of keeping people in employment. The bottom line is that its a case of lose the cars or lose six jobs. He also said that uncertainty over the funding and administration of concessionary bus passes for the over 60s meant the council would know more about its financial position by the end of the year. We should know more about our settlement in early December and will be holding further briefings with staff in the New Year to keep them informed, he said.