Fury erupted today as hard-up Bradford Council prepared to appoint a £25,000-a-year "stressbuster" for its 23,000 workers.

The move comes just a week after the authority decided to increase Council Tax by 6.3 per cent and axe £3 million from its budget.

And the decision has been slammed as a "disgrace" by disabled people, who face an increase in social service charges, and local businessmen.

The leader of the Council's Liberal Democrats, Coun Jeanette Sunderland, said: "Hundreds and thousands of people across Bradford are suffering from stress because of the actions of this Labour Group. This can't be justified."

The appointment is part of an £85,000 anti-stress plan adopted last year when an independent survey by Sheffield University found 40 per cent of staff suffered from the condition. The survey showed workers were more likely to be stressed when they could not choose how they should do their work, and were not recognised for their contributions.

Teachers dealing with curriculum changes were said to be the worst affected.

But Labour leaders say it will save costs by reducing the level of sickness in the authority.

One of the people welcoming the move is former £110,000-a-year Chief Executive Mr Richard Penn, now honorary consultant to the Association of Local Government Chief Executives, who retired from the Council on sickness grounds suffering from stress.

He said: "I think the authority is to be commended for its positive response to pressure in the workplace."

The new Employee Counselling Co-ordinator, with a salary of between £21,000 and £25,000, will be required to provide a "dependable and ethical counselling service" to members of the 23,000-strong workforce who need help.

Today Tina Burke, of Ingrow, Keighley, who has a disabled son, Peter, said: "This absolutely takes the biscuit.

"The Council is considering taking people to Court for failing to pay Social Services charges, but at the same time it advertises for an officer like this.''

The Council's Tory group leader, Coun Margaret Eaton, said: "This is absolutely crazy. How can they do this when they are closing Heather Court Day Centre for old people and putting up Social Services charges? This could actually pay the salaries of two more teachers."

Personnel sub-committee chairman Coun Gillian Whitfield said: "This is a scheme to save money and cut the amount of stress and stress-related illness which is suffered in the authority. This was included originally in the plan drawn up to combat the problem."

She said it was a specialist post for which the Council's existing personnel officers were not trained.

But Dale Smith (Con, Rombalds), managing director of Shipley Paints which employs 130 people, said council jobs were no more stressful than others and the problem should be dealt with as part of day-to-day management.

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