Finding savings… the easy way
As councils move towards the year two savings mandated by the coalition Government the pressure to find ‘easy’ savings to eat into the huge cuts targets only grows.
By and large councils have made the cuts to ‘non-crucial’ services and reduced staffing levels in the back office functions. They’ve found savings from investment and offered voluntary redundancy to anyone who wants it. Council’s have innovated in service design and reduced management. And still the savings won’t be enough.
What’s left then are very difficult cuts to valuable frontline services. Do we take money from street cleaning or libraries, reduce the social care budgets for children or adults, take chunks out of transport or homelessness?
Which is why some councils are considering making big supposedly ‘straightforward’ savings by means of changes to terms and conditions of their staff.
I’ve asked around the WLLG network to get a sense of where we are right now around the country and whilst the picture in my (admittedly small) sample varied a bit invariably the changes to Ts and Cs, where known, are going to be huge.
Amongst the options that most people were facing the archetypal package seems to be something like: (percentage reduction in staff spending power in brackets)
- No pay increments for the next three years (2% for staff receiving them)
- A reduction in pay of 1% – 3%
- A period of mandatory unpaid leave; varying from 3 days to one or two weeks (0.86%, 2% or 4%)
- A reduction in annual leave down to 26 days for all staff (those with five years’ service currently get 31)
- An increase in hours from 35 to 36 or 37.5
- A reduction in sick pay so that the first three days of any period of sickness need to be paid back (either by working the hours or actually paying back the money)
There was also some changes to overtime etc
Three things sprang to mind:
1) Yes, some of the existing terms are a bit on the generous side (annual leave and working hours spring to mind). However,
2) If you add up the changes which can be costed and then add 3% for a rumoured pension contribution increase and 4% for the cost of inflation we’re talking of a reduction of between 9% and 15% to the spending power of members of local government staff; all in one year. Those suffering from changes to overtime could face a bigger reduction.
I’m probably overstating this a little (not much) but even so this seems like too much to ask; even in a time of austerity.
2) Some of the changes to working hours and annual leave entitlements are only going to release savings if the council make the requisite redundancies. Finding the right people to cut when the reduction is one in twenty on one in fifty is going to be very hard indeed.
In some ways sharing the pain equally amongst the staff might be the way to go. We’d be able to protect some jobs and staff would know they are in it together.
However, making changes of this scale to terms and conditions, especially when those terms are to do with pay might just be too much to ask of staff who’ve already been without a pay increase for two or three years.
The war on deficit might just be having too much of an effect on the people delivering on the frontline.
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