Branch Secretary Robin Taggart gives an update on Inverclyde Council’s Budget.
The Deputy First Minister announced the budget settlement for Local Government just before Christmas on the 19th December last year. The general view across councils is that the settlement is far worse than had previously been anticipated. There are a number of reasons for this including the fact that the additional funding councils received in return for freezing council tax did not reach the ‘fully funded’ levels that the Scottish Government had promised. A number of councils, Including Inverclyde, are now considering whether to increase council tax anyway to avoid cutting jobs and services. The current estimated budget gap over two years is £2.4m and this is only if the council raise council tax by 14% over the same period and invest £6m of reserves. If the council freeze council tax and there is no additional funding then the budget gap could not be closed even if all of the current budget cut proposals were taken. The full council will meet on Thursday and it is likely that a range of options will go out for public consultation. These are detailed in the report which the council will consider on Thursday, however the options basically come down (i) apply the council tax freeze which will mean more cuts to jobs and services or (ii) increase council tax and reduce the level of job cuts. The council also have to decide whether to set a one or two year budget. The cuts being considered include; withdrawing the Community Warden and CCTV services, a reduction in Library opening hours, cease the Home Link Worker Service and a further reduction in School Cleaning hours. CLD services are also under threat of cuts but this service is part of a wider review and specific proposals have not yet been developed. Around 70 FTE posts are under threat across all services areas where cuts are being considered. No final decision will be taken until the council sets it’s budget at the end of February. The Scottish Government will finalise its budget around about the same time and another material factor in the mix is teachers and whether the SG decide to relax restrictions and penalties on council’s reducing teacher numbers. The HSCP’s budget position is equally precarious with an estimated budget shortfall of over £7m over the next three years. The development of budget cuts within the HSCP is a matter for the Integrated Joint Board (IJB) and they are considering a range of cuts within both the social care and NHS side of the HSCP. The list of possible HSCP cuts are still being discussed and these will also potentially be the subject of a public consultation exercise. It is being suggested that most of the employee impact cuts within the HSCP will not be taken until year 2 (2025/26).
The council will also consider a proposal to mitigate the impact of budget cuts on employees. This includes and extension of the redeployment period from 12 weeks to 6 months and an increase in the pay protection period from (up to) 12 months to (up to) 2 years. There is also a proposal to temporarily increase the council’s VER scheme benefits. However these mitigations are limited to this budget round which may cause an issue if the council set a one year budget. Some of the cuts such as Libraries and the CCTV service as well as potentially a raft of HSCP employee cuts will not be taken until year 2. A VER trawl of all employees in the affected services (excluding the HSCP at this stage) will begin after the council meeting on Thursday.
During our discussions with elected members we have stated the need to protect jobs and protect people, including temporary employees. Most of the proposed cuts are scalable which means the council can protect employees who do not express an interest in VER by retaining these services even if it means with a small number of fewer employees. However as a Trade Union we have to be pragmatic which is why, in the absence of any additional funding from the Scottish Government, an increase in council tax in order to protect jobs has to be a real consideration.
I will be provide further updates including at the branch AGM which will be held on Wednesday 21st February at 12.30pm in the Beacon Arts Centre.
Unison (Inverclyde Branch)