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RENEGING UNITARIES FORCE REDUNDANCIES

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Up to 2,200 county council staff in Avon, Cleveland and Humberside face redundancy because districts are reneging o...
Up to 2,200 county council staff in Avon, Cleveland and Humberside face redundancy because districts are reneging on a national agreement to offer them jobs.

Unions were in last minute negotiations this week to persuade districts to take on county staff and stop county councillors issuing redundancy notices.

Just three months before new unitary councils take on county services, officers from county departments such as transport, planning and highways, committee clerks and accountants fear they may not get the protection they were promised.

This means staff hit by the districts' change of policy will lose the chance of securing a future with the new council. However, the unitaries are not bound to offer them permanent jobs, so in theory staff could be made redundant on 1 April.

The Association of District Councils, the Association of County Councils and the unions signed a national agreement last year promising all county staff without jobs a transfer to unitaries.

The share of county staff each district should take has been agreed by county and district officers, but councillors on the shadow unitary councils looking around for savings to meet massive budget shortfalls say they cannot afford to take them.

None of the district councillors in Avon have put their signatures to a local agreement committing them to take on county staff, 500 of whom have yet to find jobs.

Richard Jewison, Unison head of local government for the south-west, said: 'We worked very hard to get that national agreement and we are going to fight tooth and nail to make sure it is implemented. There will be possible legal challenges and industrial action for any employer who backs out of it.'

In Cleveland, districts pledged some months ago to stand by the national agreement, but some councils have yet to gain political clearance to implement it and take on the remaining 500 county staff.

In Humberside, Hull City Council leader Pat Doyle promised there would be no compulsory redundancies, but East Riding Council has said it cannot offer jobs to all county staff expecting to go to it.

If districts do not take on their share of staff, counties will have to make them redundant, with three months' notice. Councillors have been advised by officers that they will be liable for surcharge if they don't issue the notices on time.

Humberside councillors frightened by the threat of surcharge issued redundancy notices to 1,200 staff just before Christmas. Humberside personnel chair John Ramby said issuing the notices one week late would have cost councillors a quarter of a million pounds.

Unison's national officer for reorganisation, Owen Davies, said councillors have been wrongly advised and are not personally liable for redundancy costs.

Neither the DoE nor the Staff Commission, which has not endorsed the national agreement, have given advice on whether councillors can be surcharged.

Tina Day, under-secretary for the Association of County Councils, said: 'I don't think there is an authoritative view at the moment. We're in discussion with the [DoE] on this and the situation will be much clearer in a week.'

Tess Green, Avon CC Unison branch secretary, said unions were being realistic about the possibility of compulsory redundancies even if staff do transfer to unitaries.

'Nobody's guaranteed a safe future now, whatever their job is,' she said.

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