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Union decries Christmas closure at county as a 'pay cut' for staff

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A second county council has announced that it will not be paying some of its staff for three days over Christmas due to “significant financial difficulties”.

Cambridgeshire CC chief executive Gillian Beasley announced a period of mandatory unpaid leave for council staff for 27, 28 and 31 December in a letter seen by LGC.

Ms Beasley said the council had negotiated a key clause in staff contracts with trade unions a few years’ ago which is “only to be applied if the council faced significant financial difficulties, which we are undoubtedly facing now.”

Local Unison representatives said the announcement was a “1.2% pay cut for staff who’ve already suffered years of pay freezes”.

The union’s Cambridgeshire county branch secretary Rob Turner said: “This lay-off is an unwanted Christmas present for Cambridgeshire’s hard-working council staff.

“When the emergency agreement was reached four years ago, we had no idea austerity would last so long. To blow off the cobwebs and pull it off the shelf now is a cruel blow to the dedicated staff who work so hard to keep the county running.”

The county follows Somerset CC, which voted in September to force council staff to take two days’ unpaid leave over the next two Christmas holidays, saving an estimated £500,000 a year. 

Cambridgeshire’s initiative will help the council close a projected overspend of £14.6m for the current financial year, Ms Beasley said. The council has so far found around £8m of in-year savings, but the unpaid leave is expected to save the council an additional £900,000.

“After many years of diminishing government grant and rising demand for our services, we are facing the most challenging times ever,” Ms Beasley wrote. “I know this will be very difficult news for you all to receive and I don’t underestimate its impact and that is why I have carefully explained the background to our decision as a leadership team.”

According to the letter, the cuts will only apply to staff on “SO1 grades and above” and will not affect council staff on the lowest salaries. The deduction will be taken in an equal amount from each month’s pay packet over the next year, beginning in November.

Cambridgeshire leader Steve Count (Con) warned last month that the council’s “situation looks dire” unless the council took “serious action now”.

“We can’t resolve this situation without help as we need to fix the problem long term. Additional government funding is needed to fix the underlying issues, rather than temporary measures we can take which just temporarily alleviate the pain” he said.




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