Should Horsham District Council staff lose car perks?

JPCT 17-08-12 S12330140X Horsham, Horsham District Council, office building, HDC -photo by Steve Cobb
JPCT 17-08-12 S12330140X Horsham, Horsham District Council, office building, HDC -photo by Steve Cobb

‘Extremely angry’ council staff will endure ‘massive financial losses’ after a review of their terms and conditions.

The reduction in car allowance and redundancy pay among other cuts have been described as ‘a very bitter pill to swallow’ by Horsham District Council (HDC) employees.

Councillor Frances Haigh (LDem, Horsham Park) said she felt ‘ashamed’ to be part of the meeting on Wednesday (July 31) when the Personnel Committee approved the revised terms and gave the green light for HDC chief executive Tom Crowley to notify all staff of the changes.

The review was conducted between July 2012 and January 2013. Since then HDC has sat down with unions and struck a deal and revised changes to terms and conditions.

“Whilst the membership voted to accept the revised terms, it was a very reluctant ‘yes’,” said Karen Tipper, a senior planning officer who spoke on behalf of UNISON at Wednesday’s meeting.

The public gallery was full with staff which had turned out in force to oppose the review.

She continued: “The cuts to pay and conditions will create hardship to a significant number of staff with massive financial losses which will impact on their livelihoods.

“Staff had very little choice in what is a very difficult economic climate but to accept the re-negotiated package. They have already endured four years of a pay freeze and seen the council’s head count reduced by over 100 staff.

“For these same staff to now face what will in many cases be a significant financial hit over the next 18 months is a very bitter pill to swallow and to add insult to injury this has been delivered by the employer they have served so diligently.”

Council staff member Bruce Milton added: “You must realise how extremely angry my colleagues and I feel about what I regard as one of the most disgraceful event in this council’s history.”

Under the new terms and conditions, the Locally Agreed Vehicle Allowance (LAVA) payments will stop and the Lease Car Scheme will discontinue - affecting 128 of the council’s 491 permanent staff.

The financial impact will differ depending on the number of miles travelled by employees, but some could face an annual loss of up to £3,500.

Free parking spaces for staff who joined HDC prior 2003 will be scrapped and replaced with a parking permit at the cost of £390.

Redundancy pay has also been slashed.

A 58-year-old with 25 years service to the council who earns £65,000 pa will now receive £64,729 instead of £128,848 in redundancy pay, a report outlines.

Councillors attacked the use of consultants, claiming money could be saved in this area rather than targeting employee terms and conditions.

Liz Kitchen (Con, Rusper and Colgate) said: “I supported some of these [changes to terms and conditions] from the very beginning but I have to say I do have some very grave concerns about where we have got to.

“What I am concerned about is when you look at the under spend and the amount we’re spending on consultants. I am very very concerned when I add up how much we spent on consultants, it’s a large amount.

“We are letting people with tremendous knowledge of the district walk out of the door and we’re bringing in people who haven’t got a clue and probably don’t give a damn.”

She added: “I do fear we are actually getting this quite wrong.”

Her views were echoed by a number of members.

Francis Haigh argued a matter of such importance should have come before the full council rather than the Personnel Committee and branded the change of car use ‘unbelievable’.

She said: “This is not the time to look at terms and conditions - we need the support of our staff to carry projects through.

“I am really ashamed to have to be here on this council. I don’t think it’s very good and the council can do better.”

Godfrey Newman (LDem, Forest) labelled the situation ‘depressing’ and added staff moral is poor.

But the chief executive stressed the review of changes has been ‘robust’, ‘fair’ and ‘open’.

“I recognise what a difficult time this has been for everyone in the council,” he said.

“It is important that the council moves on so that we can build from here and deal with all the challenges we face.

“I would like to thank staff who in this difficult period have continued to work very hard for the council and the people it serves.”

He explained the review had been pursued for two reasons: to address inequalities in terms and conditions and; because HDC is in a ‘difficult and worsening financial time’.

Laughter came from the public gallery when Claire Vickers (Con, Southwater) said the review is not just about saving money.

Sue Rogers (Con, Steyning) said she had heard employees’ comments with her heart, but Mr Crowley’s with her head.

Roger Arthur (UKIP, Chanctonbury) sympathised with staff.

“I’ve been through it,” he recalled. “I’ve come home with a sick feeling in my stomach knowing that some how I’ve got to find money for the mortgage when terms and conditions have been reduced.”

He went on to say ‘the world isn’t fair’ but stressed the council has been through a fair process.

What do you think of the changes to HDC employees’ terms and conditions? Leave your comments below.