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Cath Everett

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Two councils to sack entire payroll in order to meet cuts

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Two local councils plan to sack their entire workforces in drastic moves they say are the only way to meet cuts targets.

Shropshire County Council has already P45-ed its entire workforce to try and force through a salary cut of 5.4% and reductions in sick pay, while Southampton City Council says it will do the same next week.

In Shropshire’s case, the local authority has sent letters to all 6,500 of its personnel telling them that they will be dismissed at the end of September and rehired on 1 October if they agree to new terms, which it said would be offset by increases in annual leave. Staff who do not agree to the changes will be dismissed without any compensation.

And in Southampton, management unexpectedly cancelled talks at conciliation service ACAS scheduled for today over similar plans, a move that has deeply angered the unions involved.

A representative of the latter said that he was now convinced the council only wishes to talk to the trade unions about how its revised pay-cut proposals are to be implemented and that industrial action due to start on the 11 July will go ahead as planned, as will a demonstration on 13 July.

Jackie Kelly, Shropshire’s head of organisational development, said the decision to terminate employment contracts was taken after a failure to come to agreement with the unions meant that it had no choice. The aim is to cut the staffing bill by £7m per year in a bid to offset a total budget reduction of £76m over the next three years.

The council was following a “legal process” in order to introduce changes to terms and conditions, which was commonly known as dismissal and re-engagement, Kelly said.

“Whilst we appreciate the formal nature of this process may lead to some anxiety, we intend to continue offering reassurance, guidance and support to all our staff over the coming days, weeks and months,” she added.

The Council was also continuing to meet with the unions to “see if there is still a possibility of getting a collective agreement before 30 September to implement the necessary changes, Kelly said.

But Kim Ryley, the authority’s chief executive, said that such changes were “in the interest” of staff in the long-term as they would reduce insecurity about their future employment situation. “We have not plans to make further changes of this kind,” he said.

Unison, which is the biggest union at Shropshire and represents 40% of its staff, is furious at the move and said it was considering balloting its members for industrial action. Spokesman Alan James said that personnel were “scared and intimidated” by the tone of the Council’s letter and the way in which it had been delivered by the authority.

“We are advising our members to write into the authority refusing the new contracts and do nothing with the proposals, which have arrived through the letter box. We have some time on this and I think the authority has gone about this the wrong way,” he added.

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