Town Hall under fire from trade union, as jobs are axed, but bill for consultants and casual staff ‘runs into the millions’
by ANDREW JOHNSON
A FURIOUS row has broken out over the use of consultants and casual staff at the Town Hall after union chiefs claimed the cost was in the millions as regular staff are being laid off.
The Labour-run council says that redundancies are inevitable to cope with cuts of more than £100m imposed on the Town Hall by the government.
But public sector union Unison maintains that consultants are being used for work managers should be able to do, and that full-time workers are being replaced with cheap agency staff.
Figures obtained by Unison show that the council has spent almost £5.3m on agency staff in the three months from April to June this year, a 30 per cent increase on last year. Almost £3m of this is on care agency staff.
The number of agency staff has risen by 80 per cent.
The union claims that in the chief executive’s department alone half a million pounds has been spent on consultants and agency staff in the past three months.
Jane Doolan, branch secretary of Unison, said that staff were being “run ragged” at the council, often working without a lunch break. No one at the Town Hall seemed to know exactly how much was being spent on consultants and in which department, she added.
“The council has consistently been told that the cost of agency staff has gone down over the last three years," Ms Doolan said.
“But when we asked we were told it was £22m last year, not £8.2m. That figure could also include the cost of consultants, however. No one seems to know.
“They have employed a company called Red Quadrant to ask staff what they think frontline service should be, but surely that’s something the managers should know.”
She added that more than 400 people had been laid off from the Town Hall, but an equal number employed.
“We know that not every job is transferable, but it makes you wonder if they needed to make everybody redundant,” she added. “We asked how much is being spent on consultants, and we were told they don’t know.”
The row threatens to overshadow the installation of new Town Hall leader Richard Watts. Unison lobbied the Town Hall last night (Thursday) ahead of the meeting at which Cllr Watts officially took over. The union was due to meet Cllr Watts this morning.
A motion passed by the Unison membership stated:
“The council are misusing such contracts in order to lead to a casualisation of the workforce.”
New leader Cllr Watts said that any redundancy was “deeply regrettable”.
“But some have been forced on us by government cuts. Some work is very specialised so you can’t just swap other staff into those roles.
“We have tried to keep redundancies low and we have been pretty successful at doing that.”