Council insists staff exits save money

SBC Headquarters
SBC Headquarters

Scottish Borders Council has insisted that its programme of early retirement and voluntary severances is saving money.

This is despite the Scottish Government publishing statistics showing an increase in full-time staff in the first quarter of this year.

Figures on the Scottish Government website gave the number of full-time staff as 4,500, an increase on the 2012 figure of 4,400.

Council leader David Parker insists that employee numbers at Newtown are in fact falling. Scottish local authorities as a whole have cut their full-time staff roster by over 30,000 in the last 12 months.

Mr Parker claimed the true figure at the end of March this year was 4,395.51, compared to 4,694.30 in 2010.

“The ERVS (early retirement and voluntary severances)programme is working well and saving us money on an annual basis,” he said. “It has allowed the council to restructure and ensure a more effective and flexible workforce.

“Each application is closely examined and evaluated in terms of whether it is supported by a robust business case.

“Apart from performance improvement and increased structural flexibility, the financial benefits of approving an application, particularly the length of time of financial payback, are also taken into account.”

An Audit Scotland report last month revealed that five per cent of SBC staff had accepted exit packages in recent years, worth an average of £25,598. This means an approximate £6.4 million has been spent during that time in ‘golden goodbyes’.

A Freedom of Information request last year revealed that 250 SBC employees had taken ERVS packages since the exit strategy was introduced in 2008. The packages, open to all staff except teachers, will continue to be available until at least 2018 as part of the council’s five year financial plan.

However, Mr Parker said there were good reasons why the overall headcount had increased from a figure of 4,200 over the last decade.

“Because of pupil demographics we have had to take on extra teachers,” he explained.

“Another growth area is in services for older people because we have many additional clients who require home care and other types of support which require staffing.”

He claimed employment figures on their own did not convey a true picture because of “fluctuations” within staffing groups.

“You will find the reduction in staff in management and administration is more significant that anywhere else in the council while the staffing of frontline services has increased.”