AN EX-council leader has pleaded with local authority bosses not to keep staff in the dark over impending redundancies.
Cllr Arnold Woolley, former leader of Flintshire Council, said he fears voluntary redundancies and early retirements will not trim enough from workforce budgets as the council looks to make “unprecedented” financial savings in the coming years.
He said he firmly believes there will be job losses, with the uncertainty about the situation causing staff great concern, particularly before Christmas.
Current council leader Cllr Aaron Shotton has said the council is looking to cut staff costs in the face of the savings targets, but insisted the emphasis would be on retirement and voluntary redundancies – as well as trimming the authority’s internal running expenses.
But Independent Alliance group member Cllr Woolley, of Buckley Bistre East ward, said he had big questions about if is achievable.
He said any staff let go under compulsory redundancies need to be given as much time and help as possible to find alternative careers.
In response, Cllr Shotton said it would be premature to announce jobs loss numbers at this stage.
Cllr Woolley’s intervention comes after Cllr Shotton told a cabinet meeting last month compulsory redundancies would be “a last resort”, as the council seeks to plug a £15.5 million gap in its finances for the next year. Over the next five years savings targets spiral to £50m.
Cllr Shotton said senior management roles would be the first staffing area to come under the microscope for cuts.
In contrast to other councils, which have announced controversial plans to reduce or even withdraw local services, Cllr Shotton said Flintshire was taking a different approach “with the aim of protecting frontline services as far as possible”.
But Cllr Woolley said residents and council staff should be braced for “very difficult times ahead”.
“They’re looking for early retirement, voluntary redundancy – anything except compulsory redundancy,” he said.
“But the big question is whether you can achieve what is needed without the step of compulsory redundancies. I believe firmly there will have to be job losses. My plea is where it is clear the hatchet will fall, the employees’ position is spelt out as soon as possible.
“It’s important for everyone to be given as much warning as possible, not just the statutory notice requirements, and they need to be helped into new careers.
“We’ve a great deal of talent scattered throughout the county council and the very important thing is to see that talent is redirected and not just cut off.”
He said the uncertainty was causing staff a great deal of concern, particularly as they headed towards Christmas.
“For everybody who has this worry, the festive season is not going to be very festive,” he said.
He said he had a lot of sympathy with the council’s leadership in the face of the stark savings targets it faces, but felt there was a reluctance to “be the bearer of bad news.”
Cllr Shotton said the local authority and all other councils across Wales face “unprecedentedly challenging times”.
He said the council would publish its draft budget in January. In the meantime, “all efforts” were being made to look for internal savings as a first port of call in defence of frontline services.
“We’re looking at things such as procurement, vacant posts where savings can be made, running costs and management,” he said.
“It would be premature to announce numbers of job losses at this point in time.
We’re working sensitively and we’re in talks with the trade unions constantly to protect as many jobs as possible.”