Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Labouring a point

There was a surreal moment during last week's full council meeting when the Labour Group decided to abstain on a proposal to introduce a no compulsory redundancies policy at the council.

The plan is modelled on a scheme used successfully at Sunderland Council, run by the Labour Party with a large majority as it happens. It involves, as the name suggests, no compulsory redundancies, the use of a skills pool and the opportunity for staff to retrain or move to jobs more suited to their abilities or aspirations. Trainees and apprentices are brought in where possible to provide new blood and in Sunderland, this seems to have proved popular with the work force as well as providing significant long term savings. Staff are secure in their jobs, the council saves on redundancy payments, people have the opportunity to do more fulfilling work and training is given a high priority over bringing in highly paid recruits. What is there not to like?

The problem for the Labour Group it seems, is that the unions appear not to have not been involved in discussions to date and wanted to be represented at the council meeting. Naturally, this rang alarm bells with me - particularly as I've argued in the past for representation to be allowed at council meetings, particularly on an issue as sensitive as this which will directly affect union members.

However, on closer inspection, the proposal presented on the day contained only a commitment to introduce a no compulsory redundancy policy with immediate effect. Introduction of the Sunderland scheme (or any other variation) would be presented at a future date to the council following consultation with union representatives.

As Councillor Russell Imrie pointed out when I spoke in support of the wider proposal, I know nothing about how Sunderland operates this scheme. But it does bear a striking resemblance to the system used at my former employer - a private company which, although it did not have a no compulsory redundancy policy, used forced redundancy as a last resort. The flexibility and re-training opportunities allowed me to move from IT to running training courses - replacing a consultant who charged £1,000 a day and for me a more fulfilling job.

The same council meeting decided my proposal to webcast council meetings was deemed too costly and went for a 'compromise' podcasting service. I do have to question how it can come up with a cost of £16,500 a year - the equivalent of a member of staff spending half their time on this? My rather cheeky proposal to sell the Provost's number plate to help pay for it cut no ice, so the possibility of opening up how our council is run to public scrutiny has, for the time being, been scuppered ... to the private if not public relief of a few of the elected members, I'm sure.

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