COUNCIL staff will be forced to take three days’ unpaid leave at Christmas, under drastic new cost-cutting proposals.

Bury Council bosses are today meeting with trade unions to discuss the controversial plans for a festive closure which will save the authority £1 million and affect 6,372 workers.

The move comes as council leaders launched a plan to save £7 million annually in Bury for the next four years.

In a shock move last Wednesday night, the resignation of Chief Executive Mark Sanders from his £167,000-a-year post was announced, which he said would help ease the financial burden.

Now consultations are being held to identify savings across all departments, starting with the proposals for a Christmas break.

Council leader Bob Bibby said: “I recognise that these proposals and the announcement that we need to save £28 million over four years will create concern and anxiety. I have always been very proud of our staff and acknowledge their hard work and dedication to the people of Bury. I hope they understand the enormity if the challenge and limited options available to us.

“If I had any other options to avoid taking these actions I would, but there is simply no other way.”

Staff who do have to work over Christmas will be forced to take three days’ unpaid leave at another time in the year.

Bury branch secretary for Unison, Steve Morton, said he was presented with the proposals by letter last Thursday.

He said: “We are playing catch-up now because we have been kept in the dark until the very last minute. This is the very tip of the iceberg.

“Bob Bibby has presided over the worst industrial relations that this council has ever seen and I think he has created that.”

At a full council meeting last Wednesday, Mr Bibby announced a transformation strategy to find the savings.

The first department to be hit with cuts is the chief executive’s department which must save £500,000 by March 2011.

The assistant chief executive position will be scrapped and senior management positions will be reduced from 17 to 12.

The council will decide whether to appoint deputy Mike Kelly as Mr Sanders’ replacement later in the year.

Following the announcement of his resignation, Mr Sanders, who had just returned from a family holiday in Florence, Italy, said: “The same jobs need to be done, but they will be done with fewer people.

“I thought it was important that we all share in some of that and it’s important to think that the person at the top leads the way on that. It’s morally unacceptable that the person at the top should expect anyone else to take reductions or greater responsibilities if you are not prepared to do it yourself.”

Mr Sanders, aged 56, who is married with two children, will remain in his position until sometime in the new year.

He will leave without severance pay but he will have access to his pension.

He was appointed in October 2001 following the early retirement of the previous chief executive, Dennis Taylor.