Cash-strapped Sunderland Council saves up to £16million as 500 staff leave with a year’s pay

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MORE than 530 staff have left cash-strapped Sunderland City Council with a year’s salary.

A total of 536 workers took up the council’s offer to most of its 6,800-strong workforce of severance pay to leave their posts.

More than one in five members of staff expressed interested in taking up the opportunity.

It has now been confirmed 536 people have been given the go-ahead to walk, shaving up to £16million of the authority’s annual budget.

The offer was made all staff, apart from those in schools, after it was revealed that despite making £100million of efficiency savings, the council had still come up £5million short of trimming its budget for this year.

The payments to staff are tax free up to £30,000.

Union chiefs today raised concerns over the impact the move will have on services for Sunderland residents.

Unison organiser for Sunderland Helen Coomer said: “Obviously it’s a very significant amount of employees and we do have concerns for our members left working for the council and the effect it will have on them and on frontline services in Sunderland.

“However, we are working alongside the council to ensure all employees are fully supported by them and their trade unions.”

In a bid to not make workers redundant, the Switch (Staff Working in Transition and Change) team was created by the council last year.

It was put in place for workers whose jobs were set to be scrapped when the Government cuts come into force.

The project saw staff pooled and assigned to priority areas until they were found permanent new posts.

Since then, further cuts were needed to be made to the budget, resulting in the severance offer.

Conservative leader Coun Robert Oliver said: “Certainly there had to be some impact on the reduction in services but the way in which they handled it, by putting £8million into the Switch Team.

“I feel it could have been quicker and cheaper than having people sat in the Switch team doing projects they weren’t that keen on.

“The result has been the same which is redundancy in all but name.”

The council strove to do its best to avoid redundancies as the financial crisis crippled budgets over the past few years.

Leader of Sunderland City Council, Coun Paul Watson, said: “The offer was made because of the budgetary restraints facing the council.

“Before its closing date at the end of August, more than 1,000 staff members asked for information.

“By the end of September, 536 staff had taken up the offer.

“Our priorities remain with safeguarding and improving public services, continuing to look after the vulnerable, and attracting investment and promoting job creation. “In the last three years the council has achieved £100million in savings.”