Aberdeen council under fire from union for appointing employment consultant as it plans to cut up to 370 jobs

Marischal College

A union boss has today said it “beggars belief” Aberdeen City Council has hired a new employment consultant as it looks to cut up to 370 posts.

Administration councillors faced criticism last week after considering the proposals to reduce the full-time equivalent posts in a private session.

But Aberdeen City Council has since confirmed councillors agreed up to 230 full-time equivalent posts should be cut.

An additional 140 full-time posts, which are currently vacant, will also be disestablished.

Tommy Campbell, regional officer for Unite the union, slammed the council, claiming it has appointed a new consultant to advise them on employment, despite having its own legal team and HR staff.

He added: “We acknowledge the information coming from the management but we have not agreed to anything at this time.

Tommy Campbell

“We need to see the full financial information as to their current spend, particularly on agency companies and expensive self-employed consultants, because as far as we’re concerned, all should be at the front of the queue to go before anyone is at risk of redundancy in the council.

“We were shocked to discover in yesterday’s meeting that the council has taken on yet another consultant to advise them on employment when they have their own solicitors and senior HR officers. It just beggars belief.

“We are going to raise this with the political administration who made this decision as this is a vote of no confidence in their own staff.”

The administration is looking to implement a new Target Operating Model (TOM) which sets out a vision and strategy of how the council should be run and organised.

Douglas Lumsden.

Speaking to the Evening Express, co-leader of the council Douglas Lumsden could not say when the decision was made to appoint the consultant or how much their services cost.

He said: “I don’t know when that (the decision) was made. Like other organisations it’s doing something different. They will get experts in to advise it. It would be foolish for us to have an employment specialist when it’s not something we want every week.

“The whole route we’re taking of the TOM is to have the proper directors in post and then the heads of service in post after that.

“We’re trying to get away from the interim staff.”

Aberdeen City Council declined to comment on when a decision was taken to appoint the employment consultant, when the individual was hired and how much the role is costing the authority.

Stephen Flynn

SNP group leader Stephen Flynn said: “The suspended Labour members have been quite happy to throw money at consultants for years and I’ve no doubt that the public will be questioning where their priorities lie.

“These job cuts are a direct result of the administration’s inability to manage the books for the last six years coupled with their blinkered desire to move to a new TOM.

“We’ve been clear from the outset that the new model lacks detail and it is therefore frustrating to see job cuts proposed without clarity as to the impact on services.”

In response, Labour’s Jenny Laing, co-leader of the council, said: “It is deeply worrying when the SNP leader, who as convener of audit and risk is responsible for the accounts of the city, fails to recognise that due to the financial prudence of this and the previous administration the council has run a surplus budget each and every year since 2013.

Jenny Laing.

“As always, the SNP opposition are critical of this administration’s solution but offered no fresh ideas as to how the council could close the huge budget gap created by the Scottish Government’s failure to fund Aberdeen City Council adequately.

“This administration is clear that the TOM builds on the Strategic Business Plan agreed by the SNP in October and we remain committed to delivering quality public services and our policy of no compulsory redundancies.”

The proposals come as part of a massive transformation at the local authority as it looks to slash £125 million from its budget over the next five years.

The reduction in up to 370 posts is expected to result in savings of £10.3m.

The restructuring will see job roles amalgamated and redesigned to provide services to customers with a new structure and fewer full-time posts.

Cllr Laing added the committee instructed chief executive Angela Scott last Friday to work with the trade unions and others to offer staff the opportunity to take voluntary severance or early retirement.

She said if staff wish to retrain for vacant roles within the authority, such as teachers, HGV drivers and social workers, the council will facilitate training costs where possible.

A letter distributed to unions in wake of Friday’s decision, said the council would initially look to cut posts by removing vacant posts and also through voluntary severance and early retirement.

But it added: “If the council is not able to achieve the proposed reduction in posts in terms of the initial method outlined above, selection processes will be required.

“Should this happen then full consultation will be carried out with trade unions and our staff in respect of each affected area with a view to agreeing appropriation selection criteria, pools and processes for each area.”

Mr Campbell said he was “alarmed” by the council’s language in its statement, which said “it is hoped the savings can be achieved through voluntary means”.

He said: “We are very alarmed at the language.

“The administration has a policy of no compulsory redundancies and they have to stick to it.”

In a statement, Ms Scott said: “We are committed to managing the reduction in posts in as sensitive and understanding way as we can.

“As opportunities for change are identified, primarily as a result of teams coming together in the functional structure and highlighting duplication, employees will be involved through both engagement and consultation.

“It is important to note there will continue to be opportunities to fill vacancies for posts at the heart of the TOM, many of which will appeal to existing Aberdeen City Council employees keen to utilise existing skills or to explore options for retraining.”

During the remainder of February the council plans to establish the extent of full-time equivalent post reduction that can be achieved through further disestablishment of vacant posts, agency worker relationships and non-renewal of fixed term contracts.

Previously non-supported voluntary severance or early retirement applications will also be reconsidered.

The council has proposed meeting trade union representatives on a weekly basis until the transition to the new model is complete.