With 35,000 jobs estimated to have gone in Scottish local government over the past five years, staff are preparing for further bad news after 12 councils set out their future spending plans.
North Lanarkshire, one of the largest of the 32 local authorities north of the Border, said it is looking to remove around 750 full-time equivalent posts – about half of them through voluntary redundancy and early retirement.
East Dunbartonshire, one of Scotland’s smallest and most affluent authority areas, is shedding around 250 posts, again mainly through pay-offs and retirements. Renfrewshire will lose similar numbers.
Even in Shetland, where cuts have already seen more than 270 jobs axed from the council’s payroll in the past year, a similar level of staff is expected to be cut over the next 12 months when the authority sets out its £16 million savings plan next week.
Councils are still largely in favour of no compulsory redundancies, but some of those setting their budgets yesterday could not rule them out.
Most have factored in pay rises to their lowest-paid staff, bringing them up to an average living wage of £7.50 an hour while council tax remains frozen across the board.
Mike Kirby, general secretary of Scotland’s largest public sector union Unison, said that despite redundancies being voluntary there was concern “people were being managed into these situations”.
He added: “There’s concern about the pressure this leaves on staff remaining in posts, their ability to deliver on services and the expertise being lost. Where redundancies are on a voluntary basis we are aware people are being faced with choices they would otherwise choose not to make at this time. They are being faced with life-changing choices before they would have anticipated it.”
Falkirk set its budget on Wednesday and will look to save £10.7m across the next financial year, with a target of £35m for the next three years. Education will take a £1.5m cut.
Renfrewshire, which aims to save £16m over the next two years, has already shed 1200 posts in three years, but stressed there would be no compulsory redundancies. Savings plans include cutting free school meals back to the statutory requirements during term time, although there will be meals provided free to some children in schools over the holiday periods. Rent levels for 12,300 tenants will go up by a weekly average of £2.95.
Fife councillors agreed savings of £10.8m in the next year, including around £1.1m cuts to the cultural, sports and leisure trust.
Inverclyde, which has reduced its financial gap from more than £15m earlier this year to just £4.4m over the next three years, has still been faced with a number of controversial decisions, including the closure of a sports centre, reducing the overall leisure spend, replacing early years teachers with nursery nurses, and increasing meals on wheels charges.
Western Isles councillors facing a £6m financial gap between last year and next, voted to reduce their subsidy for the inter-island air service that links Stornoway on Lewis with Benbecula and Barra. The Barra leg has been axed saving £168,000.
But plans to reduce the Benbecula to Stornoway leg from five to three days a week, saving £173,000, have been deferred pending another approach to the health board for financial help.,
The new leader of Argyll and Bute Council, James Robb, said the authority faced very tough decisions balancing the budget, largely from resolving the staff reductions resulting from the need to save almost £6m annually over the next seven years.
Dundee’s SNP leadership said it needed £6.5m in savings for next year, with a number of posts going. In Angus, councillors agreed a savings package of just over £6m.
Orkney councillors were faced with a spending gap of £1.1m from a budget of £80m, with a 3% rise in charges for most services and a raft of job losses.
Bob Burrows, North Lanarkshire’s political head of finance, said: “While we cannot guarantee that there will be no compulsory redundancies as a result of our decisions, we believe the vast majority of staffing reductions will be achieved through the deletion of vacant posts, voluntary redundancy, early retirement and redeployment.”
Aberdeen City Council said its revenue “includes no new cuts in services, a freeze on council tax levels, and no further reductions in the local authority’s workforce”.
Aberdeenshire said it had a surplus of nearly £20m.