Union fury at merger plans

UNISON has accused East Dunbartonshire Council of failing to seek the views of staff who deliver the services which would be directly affected if plans for a merger go ahead.

The council is considering taking part in a multi-million pound project to combine thousands of staff across authorities in the west of Scotland.

If it goes ahead, between 2000 and 3400 employees from seven councils will be pulled together in a new stand-alone body with the aim of saving £30million a year.

The new body will see staff providing support services for finance, payroll, revenues and benefits, human resources and IT, and once it has been set up staff of ‘higher value’ will join the organisation.

Jim Burnett, from East Dunbartonshire Unison, said: “We believe this project has been undertaken in conditions of secrecy without proper input from the staff who deliver the services and their trade unions.

“It is typical of the ‘top down’ consultant-led approach which has led to many of the examples of poor project management in Scotland and the UK.

“The business case makes sweeping financial assumptions but does not provide any background evidence to support them. In advance of seeing much more robust detail and a breakdown on how the savings could be achieved, Unison cannot support this.

Alarmed

“The report also indicates a 25 per cent reduced workforce without any real detail on how this can be achieved and there are no clear details regarding harmonisation of terms and conditions.

“Staff in East Dunbartonshire are alarmed about the lack of clarity in the processes and how it will impact directly on their employment should the council agree to this proposal.

“Unison is not opposed to public bodies sharing services and, in fact, we support the development of some models of shared services in order to improve both service delivery and future sustainability of services and jobs.

“However, we are unable to support the current proposals as we have no confidence in the suggested model.”

Milngavie MSP Gil Paterson shares some of these concerns. He said: “There are many questions which need to be answered before I could support this move.

“Glasgow City Council use arms length companies that are prohibited from public scrutiny and when spending public money the public must have a say, whether as an individual, party or council.

“When Strathclyde Region came into being it incurred enormous wage rises and a change in service provision has to be about efficiency, not empire-building. I understand savings have got to be made, but not at the cost of accountability.

“I will be reserving judgment on this until I know the exact details of such a proposal.”

However East Dunbartonshire Council leader Rhondda Geekie defended the move. She said: “We have always been open to the possibility of shared services between councils as being a way forward in the delivery of some services.

“Our officers have worked with the other Clyde Valley councils to investigate potential opportunities to work together to improve service delivery while achieving efficiency savings.

“The business case is based on a ‘distributed model’ which would enable locations to be identified for employees in each of the council areas, which would reduce the potential impact on our employees.”

MP Jo Swinson also supports it and said: “During these tough economic times it makes sense for the councils to see whether they can save money by working together. It could help to protect the frontline services that local people rely on.

“Council officials must now carefully consider the benefits of such a scheme, and ensure they prioritise levels of service during the transition period into any agreement.”

East Dunbartonshire Council, and the other local authorities involved, are expected to come to a decision at the end of September.