Another 35 to leave SBC at cost of £1million

IT will cost Scottish Borders Council more than £1million to make early retirement or voluntary service payments to 35 employees whose annual salaries currently total £682,000, writes Andrew Keddie.

But it will only take an average of around 18 months for the local authority to recoup these costs with annual payroll savings of £736,000.

And that, councillors heard on Tuesday, represented an “attractive proposition” to SBC, which has already agreed with unions to make no compulsory redundancies in exchange for a pay freeze.

They approved a report by acting human resources manager Clair Hepburn who reminded them the purpose of cutting the headcount was “to facilitate the reduction in overall costs to the council”.

The latest cull across revamped departments comes just seven months after the council approved the exodus of 180 employees, including 50 teachers, at a cost of £4.5million, to achieve annual savings of £3.43million. On that occasion, the departing staff had been chosen from more than 600, who, in November last year, expressed an interest in quitting either through early retirement – for those over the age of 50 who can access their pension – or voluntary severance, with employees getting a compensation payment but no pension and whose posts would not necessarily be declared redundant.

This week, Ms Hepburn reported that, since then, there had been a further 79 expressions of interest from non-teaching staff in leaving the council and that, of these, 35 had been selected.

“All volunteers were evaluated against a number of criteria, including length of services, skills held, cost and financial payback, by the appropriate director,” she reported. The applications by the 35 had all been supported by their relevant directors.

Thus, 15 staff will go from social work, nine from environment and infrastructure, five from education, five from resources and one from the chief executive’s department.

None of the chosen ones were named, but the report revealed that the highest paid – from the finance section of the resources department on a salary of £60,000 – will receive £49,000 in a severance payment, a £76,000 pension lump sum and an annual pension of more than £28,000.

The next most costly employee, currently on £50,000 a year, comes from the department of environment and infrastructure. That person will get a severance payment of £34,000, a pension lump sum of £55,000 and an annual pension of nearly £20,000.

The actual dates of departure will range over a period of up to 12 months commencing immediately.

“Each individual application has been closely examined and evaluated in terms of whether there is a robust business case supporting it,” said Ms Hepburn. “Whilst taking due account of non-financial aspects, such as performance improvement ... the financial benefits of accepting the application, including the length of time of financial payback [wage savings], formed the main consideration.”

On Tuesday, Conservative councillor Fiona Lackenby (Galashiels and District) expressed concern that the job cuts would result in a loss of skills.

She was told the director of resources Tracey Logan: “Arrangements have been made to ensure a skills transfer to meet any business needs.”