SIC staff should be encouraged to take a cut in pay or working hours to minimise the number of jobs the local authority has to shed, the vice-chairman of a council committee has suggested.
Allison Duncan has insisted for a number of years that significant job cuts will be unavoidable as the council grapples with massive public spending cuts. But speaking during an audit and standards committee meeting at Lerwick Town Hall this morning, he said changes to working hours must be looked at to “save as many jobs as we can”.
The SIC is trying to cut £27 million a year – roughly a fifth of its annual spending – over a three-year period. Council management are continuing to hold regular talks with unions on the least harmful way of saving up to £14 million in staffing costs, which could mean removing as many as 400 employees from its wage bill.
Council talks with trade unions remain at an early stage, but head of organisational development John Smith told councillors around 50 ideas were bouncing around following the launch of a “ways to save” scheme where staff have been asked to come up with ideas for efficiencies.
Mr Duncan believes one of the more popular suggestions to avert job losses is for some staff to give up a week and a half of pay each year. Alternatively, every member of staff could work one hour less a week, or continue to work the same hours for one hour less pay, with savings going some way to resolving the problem.
“Nobody wants to see reductions in staff,” he said. “I don’t want to see families with mortgages and children having to go to Job Centre Plus.”
But one council source said cutting pay and hours for existing staff, many of whom are already facing pay freezes and increased pension contributions, was ever only going to lead to a “pretty moderate” saving. The bulk would have to come from cutting overall staff numbers by not filling vacancies.
Responding to Mr Duncan’s comments, Unison branch chairman Brian Smith told The Shetland Times that there was never going to be “one big thing” which could resolve the issue. He said unions had been engaged in a “complex series of discussions” with the SIC in recent months.
“We’re not just discussing ideas for saving huge amounts of money in a one-er,” Mr Smith said, “but also discussing things like: how does the council use its reserves; is the amount of money that the council says it needs to save money that could be saved without serious damage? All these things are exceptionally complex and there’s never going to be a way of dealing with this question by one big thing.”
Meanwhile, during today’s meeting North Isles councillor Laura Baisley called for more to be done to support the dispersal of local authority jobs outwith Lerwick. She said one staff member had wanted to do their work from home but had come up against “managerial objections”.
Mrs Baisley suggested an impartial adjudicator could be brought in for such scenarios because more needed to be done to “encourage and support” people to work away from the town.
She believes that a “layer of middle management” appeared resistant to letting people work away from central offices, and accepted it was “a big change for people to make in their management style”.
She also called for councillors’ and officials’ attendance at meetings outside of Shetland to be “rigorously evaluated” to ensure the time and travel had been worthwhile. “We need to be transparent about what product has come out of it,” Mrs Baisley said.