JOB vacancies at key city services will be axed and the posts filled by recruiting young apprentices under plans to save £380,000, it has emerged.
Openings in departments ranging from parks and fleet management to transport and community services will go as part of proposals to cut the Capital’s budget by nearly £30 million next year.
An unspecified number of vacancies will be “deleted” under the plan but the scale of the programme is not yet known.
Although there is likely to be a reduction in full-time openings, it is hoped Edinburgh’s economy will receive a boost through the creation of several new apprenticeships.
But critics today branded the move a “stop-gap” cost-cutting “fix”, stressing it would fail to create long-term jobs and could result in falling standards.
John Stevenson, president of Unison City of Edinburgh branch, said: “We have nothing against older workers leaving as they do, for example on voluntary retirement, and giving job opportunities to young people.
“But the concern here is that it’s only a cost-saving exercise and that there will be no jobs at the end of it for these young people.
“It’s a good thing that young people are getting training on the job. But this is a stop-gap. To be fair, we can bang our gums as much as we like but the fact is that the council is having to find millions upon millions in savings, and local government just cannot go on like this.
“I don’t think it’s exploitation of young people – they’re being offered some training – but it’s just whether they get a job at the end of it.”
He added: “We’re calling on Holyrood and Westminster to address the plight of local governments and stop cutting away at budgets.”
Leaders at the Edinburgh TUC said individual unions were evaluating the latest budget proposals but stressed they would “in principle” oppose direct substitution of trainee apprentices for experienced, fully qualified staff.
Secretary Des Loughney said: “The council should be trying to keep as many jobs as possible and should also, at the same time, ensure there are apprenticeships for young people.
“We’re not against apprenticeships but we do not see it as appropriate that this should be a substitute for properly paid, full-time workers.”
City leaders are currently working to maximise the number of jobs and training opportunities available to young people through an agreement known as the Edinburgh Guarantee. Senior opposition figures said the project had been a success and that it was “right” to expand it.
Councillor Gavin Corbett, Green finance and economy spokesman, said: “Apprentices are there to learn a trade or set of skills in a rounded way and when they do that, that’s when there is real long-term benefit to the city.
“If they are shoehorned into a frontline service simply to make up depleted numbers then there is a risk of that rounded training being diluted.”
And he said it would be crucial to provide as much direct support as possible to small businesses as the backbone of the Capital’s economy.
“As budgets shrink, it becomes all the more important to focus attention on real long-term value – backing home-grown small business and social enterprise,” he added.
Council bosses said there would be a clear distinction between work carried out by apprentices and that assigned to staff under previous vacancies.
A spokeswoman said: “Through careful vacancy management based on turnover of staff we are confident we can achieve the required level of vacancy reduction.
“The council is keen to help young people and our promotion of modern apprentices is a tangible demonstration of that, with monitoring and support ensuring their ongoing training and development.”