Golden handshake payments were not over-generous says SBC staffing boss

SCOTTISH Borders Council is one of the least generous local authorities in Scotland in the golden handshakes it offers departing staff, according to its director of resources Tracey Logan.

She was responding to statistics which showed that, in the three years from April 2007 to April 2010, the council paid out £1.245million in contract termination payments to 47 staff.

The total amount disbursed to departing employees placed SBC seventh in the top 10 of 433 councils in Scotland, England and Wales.

The highest spender was Manchester City Council which paid out more than £4.6million to 416 staff members: an average payment of £11,200.

Glasgow City Council, which shelled out £1.721million to 611 staff (an average of just £2,815) came fifth in the league table.

But SBC was well in the vanguard of average payments which worked out at a whopping £26,492. Over the same period, the council made 37 redundancy payments totalling £349,000 and paid out 92 other end of contract lump sums totalling £702,370.

The figures, revealed on the Bureau of Investigative Journalism website, were described as “alarming” by Borders Party councillor Nicholas Watson.

“I’d like to think the high payments show SBC is losing staff from higher levels than other councils,” he said.

“But that begs the question, why were we so top heavy in the first place? SBC needs to be much more careful with taxpayers’ money, not just in times of hardship like these when businesses and households are struggling to make ends meet.”

Mrs Logan, however, claimed the league table was “grossly misleading”.

She confirmed the contract terminations referred to severance and early retirement packages offered to middle and senior management grades in 2008 as part of the council’s business transformation programme.

In nearly every case the jobs had not been replaced.

“The changes we made were to improve the operational efficiency of the council without having to resort to compulsory redundancy and the money it cost the council was recouped within 18 months and that saving continues to be made on an annual basis.

“You cannot possibly compare that exercise with what has happened in, say, Glasgow.

“I have no details of who received termination payments in that city. It could simply have been externalising a manual or home care service. I can assure you that this council then and now is not over-generous in its termination payments compared to most other local authorities.”

Back in 2008, nearly 150 staff expressed an interest in leaving and last month it was reported that more than 600 had similarly responded as the council seeks to cut its staffing costs.

“The packages being offered this time round are even less generous than in 2008, with no added years dimension for early retirements,” said Mrs Logan. “Again, a business case criterion will be applied in this process.”

In a bid to meet a funding gap in the next financial year, SBC has already agreed to shed around 70 full-time posts in a £6million package of cuts. It is understood long-serving staff in the library and registrar service will be leaving in March.

Meanwhile, proposals to save a further £2million to balance the books for 2011/12 have already been endorsed by the council’s budget management group.

“I can confirm we have closed the remaining funding gap, with only some minor issues to be resolved,” said council leader David Parker.

“Although details will be announced in due course, we have achieved this without having to look at some of the more unpalatable issues that had been put forward. The savings brought forward are not as difficult as expected.”

He said the media would be fully briefed on the spending programme, both revenue and capital, before the budget is formally agreed on February 10.

Meanwhile, SBC’s five public engagement meetings on the budget – in Hawick, Selkirk, Galashiels, Kelso and Eyemouth – which were postponed because of the winter weather, will take place before February 7,