STAFF numbers at Dorset Council have increased by 300 in the five years since the authority came into being.

The figure has been revealed as the authority say it has made £96 million in savings since it came into being in 2019.

Weymouth councillor David Gray, who carefully monitors performance figures,  has said that he would have expected the trend in staff numbers to be in the opposite direction had the council been able to more fully streamline services, as it intended to do, under its transformation programmes.

He has warned that unless more radical action is taken to make yet more savings and re-configure services the council will be £50m short in just a few years time.

Dorset Council say that part of the increase, to around 4,800 full-time equivalent staff, is due to higher demand for services for the growing number of older people living in Dorset and increased numbers of children and young people identified as having special educational needs and disabilities.

Said a spokesperson: “Staffing numbers have largely remained the same since Dorset Council was set up in 2019. Numbers go up and down on an annual basis, both through natural turnover (people leaving, retirement etc), which is approximately 10 per cent, and through performance-related or compulsory redundancy, which is around 2 per cent… “Dorset Council provides around 450 different services to 380,000 residents. Waste collection, road maintenance, planning, housing, libraries, and adults’ and children’s social care are just some of the vital services which support the smooth running of our local communities. We are working to make Dorset a great place to live, work and visit.”

Dorset Council leader Spencer Flower has pledged in his budget speeches to maintain front line services in the coming year and also make savings, partially by streamlining the way some departments work and by a greater reliance on information technology.

Opposition Lib Dem leader Cllr Nick Ireland says that despite the ‘no front line cuts’ promise there has been reductions in service as the threshold for receiving many council services has increased, making it more difficult for many to qualify for help and support.

In a move seen as seeking to calm staff over potential job losses portfolio holder for corporate development and transformation, Cllr Jill Haynes, said that with many council roles difficult to recruit because of national shortages, and with the changing need for services, the authority is more likely to ask staff to be more flexible in how and where they work – as she puts it, ‘flexing’ their roles.

The council has also been following a ‘home grown’ staffing policy and now has around six per cent of the workforce made up by apprenticeships, staff which it hopes will stay with the council, taking up more senior roles in the years to come.

Other methods to improve recruitment have included some staff positions not entailing a compulsory move to Dorset with more officers able to work for Dorset Council from other areas in the country.