The employees of Scottish Borders Council are the local authority’s “greatest asset”, according to leader David Parker.
He claimed last week that by agreeing to wage restraint, including a three-year pay freeze, the workforce had saved the council £8million since 2009.
Councillor Parker contrasted that figure with the £18,550 which councillors were being asked to spend over the next three years issuing free shopping discount cards to members of staff with more than six months’ service.
The cards – offering discounts of 4% on supermarket shopping and 8% on holiday deals and other high street purchases – were part of a package of new rewards recommended by head of HR Claire Hepburn.
The raft of concessions also involved a range of salary-sacrifice schemes, allowing employees to access health care, to purchase home technology equipment and to lease new cars.
The new rewards, unanimously approved at last week’s full council meeting, are on top of a range of benefits already enjoyed by SBC employees, including the discounted use of swimming pools and other Borders Sport and Leisure Trust facilities and cut-price fees for attending courses and evening classes at Borders College.
Other salary sacrifice schemes are already in place, allowing staff to buy child care vouchers and bicycles. Council staff are also entitled to up to 39 days of holidays annually.
Urging adoption of the new rewards, Councillor Michael Cook said the cost of the shopping discount card worked out at just £3.50 per employee and was in line with practices adopted by other “forward-thinking employers”.
“It hardly sends the positive message that we value our staff if we are quibbling about spending £18,550 over three years,” said Mr Cook, adding: “Let’s not be so damned miserable and get on with this.”
He was responding to misgivings aired by Conservative councillor Michelle Ballantyne who told the meeting: “We already have a long list of benefits for staff which are significantly better than those employed in small private businesses in the Borders.”
And other Conservative member, Tom Weatherston, of Kelso said he and colleagues had been emailed by a council employee deploring the new rewards proposal and claiming the cost of introducing the cards would be better spent on social work services.