Trade unions have hit back at the SIC’s claim that many in the community feel the terms and conditions of its 3,000-strong workforce are “generous”.
The local authority last week announced plans to cut £2 million in pay and £500,000 in overtime from its £91 million wage bill. It is one of several proposals to slash between £18 million and £21 million from annual spending in the next two years, on top of £8 million savings already made this year.
Councillors will attend a crunch meeting on Thursday to decide how many of the cuts they are willing to swallow three months before May’s elections. They will do so against a backdrop of unions again warning that the SIC is hacking too much out of its budget too quickly.
Unison branch chairman Brian Smith said the council badly needed to take a step back and carefully examine the potential damage such savage cuts could cause. A detailed study of the Shetland economy designed to give an insight into the impact of any cuts will not be published until the spring.
Mr Smith wants the local authority to phase the cuts in over a three or four year period so that it can discuss things properly with the unions.
He said he had been unable to uncover any hard evidence to back up the council’s assertion, contained in an advertising supplement in last week’s Shetland Times, that the public viewed staff as benefitting from “generous” terms and conditions.
Having taken the matter up with the SIC’s communications team, Mr Smith said he had been told that such “suggestions and observations” had been received by the authority.
“Some or even most of them may have been submitted by a small number of people who like speaking about other people’s alleged privileges,” he writes in a letter to The Shetland Times.
Mr Smith continues: “Councillors and consultants should be wary about assuming they know what people in general believe about their pet schemes. In this case they might keep in mind that SIC staff are themselves members of the community – and voters.”
He also fears the proposed cuts will result in some staff being forced out of their jobs, though chief executive Alistair Buchan yesterday stressed: “There is no intention and never has been to change the council’s policy on compulsory redundancies.
“We will continue to have discussions with the unions and do all we can to certainly minimise the necessity for any compulsory redundancies, and to get as much agreement as possible in terms of how we handle the cuts over the next few years.”
Mr Buchan said a look at staff pay and conditions had been “on the cards” for some time with a view to minimising the number of job losses needed to balance the books.
Detailed negotiations about which departments might face pay cuts have not been held yet, and Mr Buchan said it was too early to say whether staff on lower incomes would be spared a pay cut.
“At this stage we’d rule nothing in and nothing out,” he said. “What we’d want to do is make sure it is as equitable as possible across the council. It wouldn’t be a case of seeking to negotiate only with individual groups of staff.”
The local authority admits two thirds of the proposed cuts will have impact directly on frontline services.
Alongside pay cuts, the council wants to save £1.7 million from its ferries budget, cut back winter gritting and snow clearing, slim down maintenance of roads and buildings, reduce grants to voluntary organisations, cut spending on cleaning and switch off some streetlights.