Argyll & Bute Council’s pay award dispute warning

Argyll and Bute Council's headquarters in Lochgilphead.
Argyll and Bute Council's headquarters in Lochgilphead.

Argyll and Bute Council could be hit further in the pocket by disputed staff pay awards, it has been admitted.

Kirsty Flanagan, the council’s head of strategic finance, highlighted the issues as part of a report at the latest meeting of the policy and resources committee. Teaching staff in Scotland overwhelmingly rejected a proposed three per cent pay increase last month, with strike action possible.

Ms Flanagan said: “It is not good timing after the Scottish Government budget was produced. It is said that there is an increase in local government funding but COSLA have produced a briefing saying that it is in reality a cut of two per cent. Part of the increase is in early learning and childcare, and there are commitments which we know we have to build into the budget. So building these in our decrease is more like two and a half per cent. We have another £2 million added to the budget gap.

“Another pressure not included is teachers’ pensions. Following an evaluation of the pension scheme, it has resulted in an increase of 30 per cent, which for us, equates to about £1.8m. We also have costs that will increase from April 1, 2019. We have a commitment that we will receive some of the Scottish Government’s budget but right now we don’t know how much.”

Councillor Gary Mulvaney recognised that the council was at “an impasse” on pay awards and was awaiting further feedback from trade unions.

He said: “On the employers’ side, is there an opportunity to increase the offer to employees in a multi-year settlement? The key to that, though, is that we could not make the offer unless there was a guarantee that the Government would fund something like that.

“The gap has got bigger but we cannot increase it unless there is funding from the Scottish Government. Where is our current thinking around this? Also, a huge chunk of our capital is £150m which was taken off us in 2016/17, and there always was a commitment we would get it back.

“For the impasse that to be removed, somebody has to do something. The employer is effectively upping the settlement, but who pays?”

Argyll & Bute Council chief executive Cleland Sneddon said of the pay dispute: “The offer in these negotiations is full and final. It has been agreed by COSLA leaders a couple of months back.

“The trade unions have voted to reject the pay offer, so the proposal now is to seek out opinion with a view to strike action, but that is still to start.

“There is a real risk there will be industrial action, both by teaching and non-teaching local government staff. There is a special paper due to be produced regarding this. One part which has been written is that if the existing pay offer is rejected, whether a multi-year deal may yet be possible.”