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1,800 Cambridgeshire County Council staff will be forced to take three days unpaid leave at Christmas

Shire Hall, the HQ of Cambridgeshire County Council. Picture Keith Heppell
Shire Hall, the HQ of Cambridgeshire County Council. Picture Keith Heppell

Authority needs to save money as it faces £14.6million shortfall in its budget

Staff at Cambridgeshire County Council will have to take three days off without pay over the Christmas period.

The time off equates roughly to a cut of 1.2 per cent of their annual pay.

This is to help make up £900,000 in anticipation of an overspend on the council’s budget, but there have been suggestions it is “hugely unfair” to make staff pay for the shortfall.

Staff earning less than £25,000 – about 3,100 of the authority’s 4,937 staff – will not be affected.

The council, which is the authority in charge of roads, schools, and adult social care in the area, is facing a projected overspend of £14.6million this year.

So far, they have made up more than £8million of this, which the council says has been done “without resorting to cutting services or making staff redundant”.

However, they still have more than £5million to find with “very limited options available” without affecting jobs and services.

In a letter to party leaders, Gillian Beasley, chief executive of Cambridgeshire County Council, said: “Many councils across the country are in a really difficult financial situation and our council is no different.

“After many years of diminishing government grant and rising demand for our services, we are facing the most challenging times ever.

Ms Beasley explained that council staff contracts have a “provision of mandatory unpaid leave” which was negotiated with trade unions a few years ago. She said the provision was “only to be applied if the council faced significant financial difficulties, which we are undoubtedly facing now”.

Ms Beasley said: “This is one of only a few options we have left now to balance our budget and it is with great reluctance that we are having to implement this clause which will mean that the council will close on 27th, 28th and 31st December 2018.”

The savings the council makes will be taken in 12 equal amounts beginning from staff’s November pay. Staff earning less than £25,000 a year, however, will not have to take unpaid leave.

A spokeswoman for the council said the emphasis would be on protecting safety. She also said the council would have to keep a coroner service going, and would need to maintain a registrar service to deal with weddings over the Christmas period.

Other essential services unaffected by the closure or run by a reduced team will include residential services, social care adult and children’s safeguarding, hospital discharge teams, and drug and alcohol support.

A full list will be published later in the month.

But some were critical of the scheme, saying council staff had worked hard to help, and it is “unfair” to expect them to miss out further.

Lucy Nethsingha, Lib Dem leader at Cambridgeshire County Council said: “I personally don’t think it is fair to expect council staff to be expected to take unpaid leave, however tight the council’s finances.

“The staff at the council have been working well over and above what is expected for years to cover the extreme financial cuts imposed by government.

“We should be showing how much we value those staff who have stuck with us through endless re-organisations and re-structurings.

“Asking them to take a pay cut over Christmas seems hugely unfair.”

Ms Beasley said: “This is not an easy message to deliver, particularly when I see [staff’s] incredible commitment and hard work, day in and day out, providing vital services for Cambridgeshire residents.”

Steve Count, Conservative leader at Cambridgeshire County Council, and Joan Whitehead, Labour leader on the council, have been contacted for comment.

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