A MINIMUM of 30 new apprenticeships will be created over the next five years as part of the review of the local authority’s environment and infrastructure services.
At its last full session meeting, held at the end of October, members of Scottish Borders Council approved a series of recommendations which see the continued development of the new structures approved last year.
These changes have been organised as a three-stage review as part of the overall business transformation programme, first begun in 2010.
The first two phases are already complete with an environment and infrastructure department created with five areas of responsibility – economic development and environment, planning and regulatory services, engineering and infrastructure, neighbourhood services and business support.
The restructuring also sees SBC Contracts split into two specialist units – one a non-trading neighbourhood services function, delivering roads services and the other a trading organisation.
Target savings of £2.36million were to be achieved overall and so far, the first two phases have saved £1.471m.
However, while the overhaul has necessitated staffing changes involving more than 70 employees since 2009 – through job transfer, early retirement and voluntary severance – councillors have now approved the new apprenticeship programme.
This was widely welcomed and will see an annual intake of a minimum of six candidates per year, for the next five years.
Councillor Jim Fullarton (East Berwickshire, Con), the previous holder of the environment and infrastructure portfolio, said he hoped news about the new apprenticeships would go some way towards maintaining staff morale.
Asked how trade unions were responding to the staffing changes, departmental director Rob Dickson explained there were regular, monthly meetings with these bodies.
Councillor Michael Cook (East Berwickshire, Ind), SBC executive member for HR & corporate improvement, said the changes had seen a “hugely significant restructuring”.
Speaking to TheSouthern this week, Mr Cook confirmed that any staffing reductions had been via transfer to a new job, retiral or voluntary severance.
“That is the position through our three-year deal agreed with unions. There are no compulsory redundancies.
“Unions are fully aware and supportive,” explained Mr Cook. “Fundamentally, there are three key drivers, in my view, underpinning the report.
“There is a need to deliver financial efficiencies. In common with other local authorities and parts of the public sector, the real reductions in our resources, together with increased demand, mean SBC will have to sprint very hard to stand still.
“Our budget gap over the next five years, optimistically, is likely to be around £28.5million. We have a statutory duty to deliver a balanced budget and will do that.”
The second driver, said Mr Cook, was the need to ensure that SB Contracts, the local authority’s one significant trading organisation, is on the most solid footing going forward in an exceptionally challenging environment, especially in the construction industry.
“The report proposes reconfiguration of SB Contracts and the traditional elements of Technical Services to give us what we believe is a solid platform,” he added.
And thirdly, he said there were expectations about the level of service the council provides and these were ever-increasing and rightly so.
“We believe that the alignment of services reflected within in the report, particularly the ‘mainstreaming’ of our SB local concept within ‘Neighbourhood Services’, will help to meet that aspiration,” said Mr Cook.