Council’s switch to avoid redundancies

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A SCHEME aimed at beating redundancies has been set up at Sunderland Council.

The city council has vowed to avoid mass redundancies and set up a special pool – dubbed Switch – for workers who are displaced when Government cuts come into force.

The project will see staff pooled and assigned to priority areas until they are found permanent new posts.

Public sector Unison called the move “groundbreaking”, but expressed reservations about how well it will work and if it is enough to avoid deeper cuts.

Dr Helen Paterson, strategic director of transformation at the council, said: “We are creating a pool of flexible staff that can be transferred onto projects and into new working areas, as and when they’re required.

“Switch – Staff Working in Transition and Change – is in its early stages and is part of the ‘Sunderland Way of Working’ to continually improve services for everyone in the city.

“The leader and the chief executive of the council have pledged to avoid mass redundancies. Switch is one of the ways that we can support our ongoing transformation programme and help ensure we fully utilise and develop employees who will ultimately be transferring into different roles.

“During this period of transition, additional staffing costs will need to be met. A sum of £8.3million has been provided within the budget planning proposals at this stage.”

Dr Paterson said the Switch team will be “a resource for project work as the council moves into new and more improved ways of working, minimising our reliance on costly external support.”

She continued: “Switch will help us avoid the cost and social impact of mass redundancies – the vast majority of council employees live in the city – and provide a cost-effective way of bringing resources into our transformation programme.”

Helen Finkill, Unison’s regional officer responsible for the Sunderland area, said the union was in talks with the council over Switch, and had contact from members concerning the scheme.

She said: “We are more than happy the council are not taking the usual route of mass redundancies, but it remains to be seen whether or not it will work.

“We have some reservations about what they’re doing, but it’s ground-breaking and I know other councils around the country are looking to them to see if it will work.”

Ms Finkill said the scheme had got off to a slightly rocky start as staff were required to use an automated system to assess which roles would be suitable, and were being offered posts entirely unsuited to their skills and experience.

“People were being asked to move to absolutely ridiculous jobs which they would not be able to do and so we argued it needed a human approach.”

Ms Finkill said the council had now made changes, but there were still concerns.

“The danger is that people will be offered jobs they don’t feel are suitable but because of the current climate they will feel obliged to take,” she said.

“We also have concerns about people moving to jobs that aren’t on the same pay level.”

Sunderland Conservatives leader Tony Morrissey said: “Anything the council can do to retain staff can only be a good idea.”