Council row erupts over changes to perks

JPCT 21-01-13 S13040632X  Horsham District Council. Cuts -photo by Steve Cobb
JPCT 21-01-13 S13040632X Horsham District Council. Cuts -photo by Steve Cobb

A row has erupted within the council as angry staff protested over proposed changes to their terms and conditions last Thursday.

Facing a substantial reduction in car allowance and redundancy pay, and the introduction of charges to the staff car park, around 70 employees at Horsham District Council packed the chamber’s public gallery, while an estimated 40 people watched the Personnel Committee’s proceedings from the Capitol Theatre in North Street.

The committee approved three resolutions: consultation with employees on the revised terms and conditions, consultation with the unions, and that if an agreement could not be reached, to terminate existing contracts and offer employment on the new terms.

The move is part of a transformation programme aimed at delivering a total of £1.25m savings, needed to plug a £2.6m deficit.

Six officers stepped up to raise concerns on behalf of the staff, while councillors reported that 68 emails had been received from concerned council employees.

Bruce Milton, a geographic information service technician, wearing a Unison lanyard around his neck, said: “This report is grossly unfair and has more holes than a sponge. Throw it out.

“We are not the problem, we are your biggest asset.”

He stressed that some staff were facing, in effect, a pay cut of between four and 23 per cent.

Roy Cornell (Con, Roffey South) replied: “Bruce we take no pleasure from making some serious and awful decisions.”

Other officers raised different points.

Karen Tipper, a senior planning officer, thought that removing Locally Agreed Vehicle Allowance (LAVA) could damage the deliverability of services, Simon Godfrey, an HDC web designer, did not understand the speed with which the process was being done, while Tina White, Horsham Unison branch secretary, said that since 2009 the council’s headcount had gone from 609 to 498.

During the meeting staff raised various placards, and even heckled Tom Crowley, their own chief executive, at one point.

One disgruntled employee abandoned his three length of service awards for 20, 25, and 30 years with the council.

Another employee told the County Times: “I’m new and not losing out, but I’m here to support those who are.”

One poster highlighted last week’s news that councillors may receive iPads under plans being considered, and read: “+10% cut for 22 years service. I want an iPad.”

Godfrey Newman (LDem, Forest) labelled the report crazy, and was one of three Liberal Democrats to vote against all three recommendations, with Sheila Matthews (Ind, Henfield), joining them on the third recommendation.

David Holmes (LDem, Horsham Park) said he felt shattered after reading the staff’s emails, and thought the report on the revised terms and conditions lacked sufficient evidence in key areas.

Mr Crowley attempted to placate his workforce by reminding them that current proposals were only serving as a basis for the 90-day consultation period.

He explained: “You have to remember, as officers and members, we are a publicly funded organisation and we are not immune to what has been happening in the external world.

“The alternative for the council is to cut services and cut more jobs.”

But they greeted every speech made against proposals with rapturous applause, while they interrupted Mr Crowley with cries of ‘rubbish’, and ‘we have been ignored’ during his speech.

For many members the third recommendation remained a substantial problem. Leonard Crosbie (LDem, Trafalgar), chairman of the council, said: “To me that’s negotiating consultation under duress.”

But Roger Arthur (Con, Chanctonbury), cabinet member for efficiency and resources, added: “The consultation is a genuine and balanced process, and we have to proceed with this process and make sure staff concerns are taken into account.”