Figures released by Audit Scotland reveal that Scottish Borders Council cut its workforce by more than a quarter between 2011 and last year – the biggest reduction made by any local authority in the country.
However, the council claims figures showing a 25.5% fall in headcount were skewed by hundreds of staff transferring to partner organisations and that, taking those switchovers into account, 7% would be nearer the mark.
In the first quarter of 2011, the Newtown-based authority employed 5,800 people, but by 2017 that payroll had shrunk to 4,400.
The figures also show that other councils have reduced their workforces by far less despite facing larger budget cuts.
Scottish Borders Council has trimmed its budget by 8.4% since 2010-11, but other local authorities have had theirs slashed by up to 18%.
The authorities with the second and third highest staff cuts, Highland and Glasgow City’s, kept their headcount reductions to 19% even though they faced greater cuts to their budgets.
A spokesperson for Audit Scotland said: “It is critical that councils carefully manage workforce reductions and that each council ensures it has people with the skills required to deliver its priorities now and in the future.
“Workforce planning is complex, and councils face a number of challenges.
“Strong leadership is essential for councils to effectively manage transformation and develop new ways of delivering services within reduced budgets.”
A large proportion of the reduction in workforce is due to the transfer of hundreds of staff to SB Cares and Live Borders.
More than 800 staff from the council’s care service were transferred to SB Cares, a council-owned company providing care homes, day care and independent living services.
A further 200-plus employees were transferred to Live Borders, a trust providing culture and leisure services on behalf of the council.
A council spokesperson said: “The figure quoted correctly draws attention to the transfer of staff to SB Cares and Live Borders.
“SB Cares and Live Borders had 800 and 209 staff transferred respectively, and these jobs have been retained and remain within the Scottish Borders.
“The headline figures reported by Audit Scotland are not, therefore, a true reflection of the actual reduction of staff numbers working for the council and its associated and subsidiary bodies
“Scottish Borders Council is committed to ensuring the council group is as efficient as possible while recognising the responsibility to maintain local employment opportunities.
“The overall reduction in staff due to more efficient ways of working is 6.9%
“We are committed to minimising compulsory redundancies, and we operate an early retirement or voluntary severance programme to minimise any impact on staff.
“In addition, we have a robust redeployment process which ensures we minimise the number of compulsory redundancies across our workforce and only use these where absolutely necessary, having first considered redeployment and voluntary severance options.”
Union bosses are unconvinced, though.
Mark Lyon, regional officer for Unite Scotland, said: “Unite is conscious that all local authorities have been impacted on by the effect of austerity cuts.
“However, astonishingly, the research from Audit Scotland seems to show that Scottish Borders Council, which is at the bottom of the league for cuts made to its own budget, is top of the league for slashing jobs and services.
“These figures seem to show that services to our communities are more vulnerable at Scottish Borders Council than with any other local council in Scotland.”
“What an indictment.
“The outsourcing of jobs to organisations like Live Borders, SB Cares and, more recently, IT services causes us grave concern over the job security for those transferred.
“But the movement of these jobs does not tell the whole story in respect of actual posts lost.
“In due course, the job cuts will affect the local economy as local spending will be reduced by loss of earnings locally.”