Council workers in Midlothian have been told they face “significant” job cuts in the coming year as the local authority looks to bridge a £6.7 million funding gap.
The council agreed to introduce a voluntary redundancy and early retirement scheme last week after the Scottish Government announced its grant settlement for the next financial year.
Midlothian Council leader, Councillor Derek Milligan (Lab), said the settlement, which was estimated to see a cut of over £500,000 in funding, together with an anticipated demand for additional pay increases to be met, created a “disaster of a budget” for the local authority.
He said: “As a consequence of this budget settlement and the fact we now face a real shortage of £6.793m by April 1, I think there is urgent action needed to be taken to downsize the amount of people that we are employing.”
Cllr Milligan called for the introduction of the voluntary redundancy package at last week’s council meeting.
He said: “As a consequence of this settlement the council will have to significantly reduce employee numbers. There is therefore little option but to also look to voluntary severance/early retirement to assist in achieving the reductions necessary.”
And he called on Scottish Ministers to re-examine the format used to decide how much money is given to individual local authorities saying the current formula is out-dated.
He said: “How can it be right for a growing council like Midlothian with all the pressures put on us by the Scottish Government to increase the housing, there has to be support for councils like us.”
Pointing out that years ago Midlothian was seen as one of the smallest ‘landward’ councils while West Dunbartonshire was consider one of the “bigger laddies”, he said now Midlothian had a population 1,000 higher than West Dunbartonshire but received £8m less this financial year.
Cllr Milligan said: “The minister needs to reopen that. There needs to be an independent review of the funding stream.”
The call for job cuts was met with anger from SNP Councillor Joe Wallace who refused to back an amendment introducing the redundancy measures pointing out a final settlement figure had not been reached.
Cllr Wallace said: “You are asking us to take a message to our employees that by Christmas they are going to be out the door, that is not going to happen on our side.”
However the council’s finance chief confirmed that job losses were “inevitable” as he revealed the shortfall in budget to meet services in the next financial year was nearly £6.8m.
Gary Fairley told the council: “The consequence of the challenging grant settlement, the increased cost pressures to the council and the remaining budget gap of around £6.7m against the concept of an organisation that the most significant part of our cost base is people, it is inevitable that there needs to be a reduction in head count to address that budget shortfall.”
Cllr Jim Muirhead (Lab) told the meeting that councillors had no choice but to introduce voluntary redundancy: “We are recognising the fact the settlement from the Scottish Government is an appalling one.
“We will have to bear more than our fair share of cuts, in order to bridge that gap we are going to have to ask for additional voluntary redundancies.”
The councillors then voted by ten votes to five to approve the voluntary redundancy scheme being brought forward by Midlothian Council.