Foster pay hike, but jobs will go

SCOTTISH Borders Council will shed a further 42 full-time posts in the forthcoming financial year as it works to balance its books while maintaining essential services.

The cost of the latest staff exodus will add just over £1million to the £264million 2012/13 spending of the region’s largest employer.

That is because the council has struck a three-year quid pro quo deal – about to enter its second year – with unions that there should be no compulsory redundancies, in return for a pay freeze.

Thus the slimming down of the workforce, described as “essential” this week by finance spokesman Councillor Neil Calvert, will be achieved by either early retirement or voluntary severance.

The jobs will become surplus to requirements as a result of so-called service efficiences and rationalisations worth £4.5million.

Social work and resources (finance and the like) will take the biggest hits, each losing 15 full-time equivalent (FTE) posts. A futher 6.5 FTEs will be shed in environment and infrastructure, with the balance going from education.

The efficiences and cuts, along with more than £2million in savings as a result of the pay freeze, account for most of the £7.2million that Mr Calvert revealed would have to be found to meet the council’s commitment to deliver essential services, such as social work and education.

The funding gap exists despite SBC receiving a Scottish Government grant of £214million – down just £500,000 on last year – to fund its revenue spending from April 1.

With Council Tax, which pays for the 20 per cent balance of the total budget, frozen for a fifth successive year, Mr Calvert said efficiencies were required, mainly because of “demographic and other service pressures” which have added £4.5million to demands on council spending.

“We have more looked-after children and more people with dementia because of our ageing population, and that must be reflected in our spending provision,” he said.

The council will hope, however, to save on its social work outlay in the long term by increasing the fees and allowances it pays to foster carers, the demand for whom has been fuelled by social factors and exacerabated by the fact that, at present, neighbouring local authorities offer fostering families far higher rates of remuneration.

“This is a spend-to-save measure and will hopefully cut the costs we bear for those youngsters currently being cared for by outside agencies at great expense,” said Mr Calvert, revealing £350,000 had been set aside for the purpose.

The news was welcomed by Councillor Gavin Logan (Con, Tweeddale East) who claimed last year that, because of the relatively poor pay scales, fosters carers in the Borders were being “poached” by other local authorities.

As a result of the new funding, fosterers looking after children aged under 10, and receiving a weekly allowance of £103, along with a fee of £124, will soon be netting £120 and £150 respectively – a weekly hike of £43.

Those caring for children aged 11-17 will get a combined weekly payment of £380 – up £74 on current rates.

“This is fabulous news in this period of austerity and SBC should be congratulated,” said Mr Logan. “It should also solve the unwelcome problem of finding places for our older children who must be cared for.”

The announcement was part of the 2012/13 budget unveiled on Tuesday and due to be adopted formally at next week’s full council meeting.

SBC leader David Parker said: “In these difficult financial times, we have been able to protect frontline services and still invest in important services like roads.

“I want to thank council staff for their decision to accept a pay freeze as we are not having to make some of the more difficult cuts other local authorities are announcing.”

Asked if the gloomy long-term forecast for his council to deliver meaningful growth investment would deter people from seeking election in May, Mr Parker said: “I really hope not. At this time there has never been a greater need to encourage new people to come forward.

“Councils do make a difference and we impact on the daily lives of Borderers more than any other tier of government.”

z Full budget round up: Page 3