SIC to re-open single status pay deal as it strives to slash spending over two years

Shetland Islands Council today unveils plans to lop £2 million off its wages bill and cut £500,000 from overtime costs by renegotiating its employees’ terms and conditions.

In an advertisement in the print edition of The Shetland Times which puts meat on the bones of the local authority’s plans to shed £18 million from annual spending in the next two years, chief executive Alistair Buchan confirmed plans to revisit employees’ pay, which costs £91 million a year.

The council said it had detected that council workers’ terms and conditions were viewed as “generous” by others in the community. With salaries accounting for around three-quarters of annual running costs, the local authority views cuts to staff pay and overtime as a more palatable alternative to putting hundreds of staff out of work.

However, following protracted negotiations over the single status pay deal, the move is liable to lead to another drawn-out battle with local trade unions.

Unison branch spokesman Brian Smith said no discussions had been held about re-negotiating single status.

He re-iterated that the unions were concerned the council was trying to cut too far, too fast and believed it should look to make savings over a longer time span.

Last week The Shetland Times revealed that a study into the economic impact of cuts would not be available until the spring, long after councillors have made crucial decisions on spending.

Cutting the wage bill is one of a series of measures set out ahead of councillors’ crunch 9th February meeting to agree the SIC’s budget for 2012/13. They encompass everything from striving to save £1.7 million within the inter-island ferries budget down to pruning the grass-cutting budget by £15,000.

The review of the single status deal is one part of a drive to be led by Mr Buchan to cut £5.4 million from the cost of the council running itself, which will include centralising contracts and cutting out “excessive” specification, sometimes said to be gold-plated.

Across the council suggested cuts of £29 million have now been identified for debate next month. Of that, £10 million is classed as from “efficiencies” which it is claimed will not seriously affect frontline public services. The remaining £19 million will involve decisions which will change those services.

Following a string of seminars on the subject, proposals to come under the microscope in a fortnight’s time include:

• Cutting back winter gritting and snow clearing;

• Slimming down maintenance of roads and buildings;

• Re-organising day care in the community and meals on wheels;

• Reducing grants paid to voluntary organisations by 10 per cent;

• Cutting £200,000 from the cost of cleaning offices and other buildings;

• Switching off certain streetlights to save £25,000, subject to “safety and technical issues” being overcome;

• Making better use of technology for recording and storing data, and eliminating paper-based systems for things like staff sickness records and expenses claims.

Just one of a raft of major reviews being carried out, the examination of ferry services will look at cuts to timetables and fare increases and will consider whether more ferries could be run privately. The latter idea was voiced by a number of people during a string of public meetings in October and November. The review should be concluded by September.

Bus services and the council’s inter-island air service will also be under review.

Other big ticket reviews further down the line include plans to look anew at the vexatious matter of school closures following May’s council elections and the completion of the Scottish government’s commission on rural education. The way pupils are taught to play musical instruments will be scrutinised, as will how best to deliver additional support needs (ASN) in schools.

There is succour for those who grumbled at all the money spent on roping in outside consultants in the past 18 months. With most of the structural changes pushed through as part of Mr Buchan’s “improvement plan” complete, hired help will now only be required for “work of a one-off or specialist nature”.


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