Sunderland council workers offered a year’s pay to quit

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CASH-STRAPPED Sunderland City Council is offering its staff up to a year’s pay to quit.

In a leaked document seen by the Echo, the authority says it needs to save an extra £100million over the next three years – and is £5million short of this year’s target.

Now 6,800 staff have been given the opportunity to apply for what it calls a “one-off time-limited opportunity”.

The document says they can leave the council “in a compromise deal”.

It adds: “This offer is substantially more than a redundancy payment, therefore these offers are subject to certain conditions”.

Employees have to apply by August 31, and if successful, are expected to leave before October.

The severance pay is tax free up to £30,000.

Some staff will not be allowed to go if their absence “would leave an unacceptable business risk”.

Since 2008, the council has cut its workforce – excluding schools – from 8,300 to 6,025, including agency staff.

To avoid mass redundancies due to the recession, as has happened at other councils, Sunderland created the Switch (Staff Working in Transition and Change) team. More than 350 employees are currently working in the department.

Switch staff could be used to fill vacancies created by the current severance offer.

Helen Coomer, Unison organiser for Sunderland, said: “There is a general level of understanding from our members that the council needs to reduce its budget because of the pressures from the ConDem Government.

“We are supporting our members in making decisions over this.”

Sue Stanhope, the council’s director of human resources and organisational development, said: “We have a clear current commitment to no mass redundancies and this hasn’t changed.

“To date, Sunderland has taken a measured and managed approach to planning for reductions in public funding and we will continue to do so.

“The priority has been on safeguarding and improving public services and jobs and ensuring we continue to look after and support the most vulnerable residents in the city, at the same time as continuing to attract new businesses to invest in the city.

“This managed approach has helped the council achieve £100million in savings in the last three years.

“The council continues to look at efficiencies and savings and these latest proposals are part of that process.

“The proposals which are currently being considered provide opportunities for employees to exit the organisation on a voluntary basis with a compensation payment.

“It is not redundancy. Employees will only be able to take advantage of these proposals where the council can realise an efficiency as a result.

“These proposals are in addition to a range of other workforce planning initiatives currently in place.

“We will continue to work closely with our staff and the unions throughout this process, and value their continued support.”

Conservative leader Coun Robert Oliver said: “Whilst the Conservative Group supports measures to avoid mass compulsory redundancies, we are keeping a close eye on both the £8million cost and the working of the Switch Team and are aware of concerns expressed by some employees.

“Sunderland City Council was planning for cuts to spending before the 2010 general election and has chosen a unique method inspired by a report from a leading accountancy firm who have been paid nearly £1million by the council.

“We understand that there are now 353 employees in the Switch Team waiting for a decision as to their future role at the council and, as this latest package contains a financial incentive to leave the council, it is similar in many ways to a voluntary redundancy.”

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