Anger as pay cuts loom for vital care staff

around 300 staff providing care for the most vulnerable learning disabled people in the Borders are facing a pay cut.

They will also be asked to accept a reduction in annual holidays, along with major changes to their sick pay arrangements.

The first in a series of consultation meetings will take place today for employees of the Galashiels-based Brothers of Charity (BOC) which is paid by Scottish Borders Council to provide a range of key services for people with learning disabilities.

These include nursing home care, day support services and supported living services across the region.

And the voluntary organisation’s boss fears morale will be hit and retention of staff will become more difficult.

“This is the inevitable consequence of the public spending cuts which we are all aware of, but are now becoming a reality on the ground,” BOC director of services Liam Byrne told TheSouthern.

“It is a troubled time for our staff, who are totally committed and dedicated to the welfare of their clients, so our aim at this stage is to ensure, above all else, that these services are not compromised.

“However, that will become increasingly difficult if, as we fear, the SBC spending cuts recur in the years ahead.”

News of the impending pay cut and radical changes to staff terms and conditions came in a letter which was sent by Mr Byrne to all members of his workforce, including management and admin staff, last week.

It was leaked to TheSouthern by a disgruntled employee who told us: “This is how the budget cuts are now affecting ordinary working people.”

Mr Byrne explained he was informed in March that SBC was reducing the fee paid for BOC services by five per cent.

It was confirmed to him by lead officers (of SBC) last month that these reductions were expected to take effect in the latter six months of the current financial year, with full effect in 2012/13.

“The reduction means a loss of income annually of £257,000, along with £15,000 unavoidable price increase, requiring us to find £272,000,” revealed Mr Byrne. “Given that around 85 per cent of the organisation’s income is spent on pay costs, it is necessary for us to consider changes to employee terms and conditions in order to manage the reduction in income. The scale of the reduction and timeframe mean we must identify and implement reductions in staffing costs at this time.”

Stressing that the deadline for the changes to be implemented is October 1, he has thus arranged a series of staff meetings today and on Monday.

On the table will be a 1.5 per cent pay cut to save £70,000, a two-day reduction in annual leave and changes to BOC’s occupational sick pay scheme (OSP), with no sick pay paid during the first year of service and no pay for the first three days of any illness episode.

Mr Byrne said he was “neither surprised, nor perturbed” that the impending changes to staff conditions had been leaked.

“I think the public should be aware of the challenges that providers like us face in the wake of council spending cuts,” he told us. “You can well understand the frustration of staff because the pay cut option will see them return to what they were earning three years ago in 2008. Some may feel this is unfair, given that SBC staff are having their pay frozen, but the fact is a pay freeze would not be sufficient to cover our funding shortfall.

“I urge as many staff as possible to get along to our meetings – we really need their engagement to meet the challenges we face.”

In February, SBC approved a £2.47million cut in its social work budget for the current financial year, including more than £400,000 from the “renegotiation of contracts for service delivery”.

SBC director of social work Andrew Lowe told us: “We appreciate the efforts of BOC in attempting to trim its costs and we sympathise with its staff.

“However, pressure on public spending is a nationwide phenomenon. The social work department at the council has also taken a hit with the non-replacement of staff who have retired or taken voluntary severance.

“Ultimately it is the business of the service providers to deal as best they can with the cuts which are likely to recur, but the public can be assured that, as the commissioners of the services, we will monitor any detrimental impact on clients, as will the new Social Care Social Work Inspection Agency.”

Mr Lowe said that one of his first tasks as the new president of the Scottish Association of Social Work Directors, will be to lobby the new majority SNP government at Holyrood.

“Politicians have discretion over public spending and I will be putting the case strongly, on behalf of the Borders, where demand for services is huge, and the whole of Scotland that there is a limit beyond which social care budgets cannot be cut.”