Report urges shopping discounts and more perks for council staff

Scottish Borders Council headquarters in Newtown St Boswells.
Scottish Borders Council headquarters in Newtown St Boswells.

Amid fears that a pay freeze followed by a small salary increase this year may have hit staff morale at Scottish Borders Council, an array of new perks is due to be unveiled today.

A report to the full council meeting will recommend that a rewards package – open to employees and the 34-elected members - should include shopping discounts and assistance to buy home electronic equipment and to lease new cars for business and personal use.

The report, by head of HR Claire Hepburn, acknowledges that employees already enjoy a range of benefits not always available to other workforces.

The vast majority are in the local government pension scheme (LPGS) which offers a final salary pension.

As a result of reforms, this will become a “career-average” pension in April next year, but Ms Hepburn stresses: “Both schemes are very favourable compared to the much more commonly offered defined benefit schemes which most organisations offer.”

Council staff already have “generous holiday entitlement” of up to 39 days including public holidays and a range of flexible working options, including job sharing and home working.

Employees currently get discounted rates for using swimming pools and other Borders Sport and Leisure Trust facilities and pay discounted fees for attending courses and evening classes at Borders College.

There is also a programme which allows employees and elected members to access free practical assistance with personal finances, legal advice and face-to-face counselling.

Today’s report says the new incentives, on top of those already enjoyed, will “assist with recruitment, retention and motivation of the workforce” and “should increase employee morale and engagement”.

The shopping initiative, which will cost the council £18,500 over three years, will allow staff with more than six months’ service and councillors to claim a 4% discount on supermarket shopping and 8% of high street purchases, including with holiday operators, via the use of preloadable cards.

“It is anticipated this can be in place before Christmas,” states Ms Hepburn.

In addition staff, regardless of employment status, will be able to voluntarily pay into a new “health care cash plan” to cover the cost of visits – by appointment or in emergencies - to dentists, opticians, physiotherapists and other healthcare professionals.

Two new “salary sacrifice” schemes, are also being proposed.

By authorising a tax exempt payroll deduction over 36 months, staff and councillors will be able to immediately acquire a range of new home technology equipment of their choice, including iPads, computers, Smartphones and SmartTVs.

Finally, employees will be able to use a similar payment method to lease a new car, either for business or personal use, taking advantage of “volume purchasing discounts”.