Essential services could be restructured

Ploughs from SBC Roads department depot prepare  for another day of ploughing and gritting on tuesday morning
Ploughs from SBC Roads department depot prepare for another day of ploughing and gritting on tuesday morning

A commitment to cutting the overtime of its staff will not affect Scottish Borders Council’s winter maintenance programme.

That assurance was issued last week, despite a landmark legal ruling which means employers will now have to reflect overtime payments in the calculation of holiday pay.

Although last month’s judgement of an Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) in the case of Bear Scotland v Fulton means that employees cannot lodge backdated claims for underpayments, the ruling has major revenue cost implications for the region’s largest employer.

Indeed, a council spokesperson told The Berwickshire News this week: “Based on historic overtime levels, the cost to the council of paying holiday pay associated with the recent judgement will be around £400,000 a year. “The council anticipates the cost will be met from existing budgets.”

Asked how the council would plug the shortfall, Councillor John Mitchell, depute leader (finance) stated: “The council management is actively working to reduce the overall level of overtime costs in order of offset any additional costs...”

With gritters now making their first appearance in earnest, councillors were told on Thursday that the main financial risk of the cold season “centres on the amount of overtime that will be required to deliver the service”.

That assertion, in a report on the council’s updated winter service plan, raised alarm bells with Councillor Gavin Logan at the meeting of SBC’s environment and infrastructure committee.

“If, as Mr Mitchell infers, the council is to cut overtime to meet the costs of the legal judgement, we need an assurance that the crucial treatment of our roads in winter will not be affected,” said Mr Logan.

Jenni Craig, neighbourhood services director, told him: “There will no change in shift patterns this year and, while it is true we are looking at other areas of overtime, it will not apply to winter maintenance.”

Councillors noted that around 6% of roads in the Borders, previously prioritised as “primary routes” for gritting, were now deemed to be “secondary routes”.

As such, the latter will only be treated once primary routes have been completed and “subject to available resources”.

It was agreed that the redesignation of such routes in the main towns of Galashiels, Hawick, Peebles, Selkirk, Kelso and Jedburgh should be put out to consultation with community councils before being formally adopted.

The committee heard that the 821 salt bins distributed across the road network three years ago had increased by 158 to reflect those communities with plans in place for severe winter weather. There were now 25 of these so-called “resilient communities”, each provided with manually operated salt spreading machines.