THE Capital is facing the threat of its worst strike action in nearly 20 years as councillors prepare to vote on whether to make compulsory redundancies as part of a £141 million savings drive.
Leaders of the SNP-Labour coalition, which runs the city council, pledged there would be no mandatory redundancies for the duration of the administration.
But they have admitted that this may need to be reversed as the Capital seeks to cut around 2000 posts to balance the books over the next four years, although any change would be subject to a council vote.
Amid signs that senior administration councillors are open to voting down the pledge, bosses at Unison’s Edinburgh branch – who represent around 9000 council employees – said any vote in favour of dropping the commitment would trigger a ballot on industrial action.
And they warned of the likelihood members would vote in favour of a full strike amid surging anger over the scale of proposed cuts.
Repairs, maintenance and cleaning of council buildings such as schools, care homes, community centres and libraries could also be privatised under proposals aimed at saving £80m.
John Stevenson, president of the Unison City of Edinburgh branch, which has around 1300 members, said: “At every single general meeting of the membership – from 1998 onwards – members have instructed us to include a policy which would trigger a ballot on industrial action if there are compulsory redundancies.
“We have to take from that the members would be prepared to vote yes to industrial action in such a ballot.
“A strike would be part of any [industrial action] strategy. It would not be the only part – you have working to rule, demonstrations, one-hour stoppages to longer stoppages – but it would be part of any industrial action.”
Peter Lawson, branch convener at Unite City of Edinburgh Council, said: “I would echo what John Stevenson has said. I think members feel very strongly about this. People are absolutely furious this is coming.
“The union is opposed to privatisation on the grounds that both quality of service and terms and conditions would diminish. You have evidence of that already with public-private partnership [PPP] schools.”
Papers on the proposals will go before councillors to include the plans to reduce staff numbers over the next two years.
Reports detail a range of cost-saving actions to be discussed at the council’s finance committee next Thursday.
The council said the workforce made up 60 per cent of its budget and it would be “unrealistic” to make the required savings without reducing the number of employees.
Councillor Alasdair Rankin, finance convener, said: “We are very clear about the scale of the financial challenge that the council is facing.
“The council is experiencing greater demand for services than ever before, with a growing population in Edinburgh and increasing numbers of older people and younger people, while our overall budget remains the same.
“We need to take action in order to achieve the necessary savings to meet this demand and we are making every effort to do this in a way that will safeguard frontline services for the people of Edinburgh.”
He added: “We want to invest in the services that are important to the public but must also look to rationalise our spending where appropriate.
“We recognise that some of these proposals may involve tough decisions, including a reduction in council jobs, particularly in middle management. But while this won’t be easy, savings will allow us to prioritise the things that matter most to people.”
Mr Rankin said the council wanted to see as many staff as possible “come forward” to take voluntary redundancies.
“If, at the very end of that process, we find there is not a sufficient number of people coming forward then we will have to look at other options,” he added.
“What we’ve asked officers to do is provide more detail on how they see the voluntary redundancy scheme panning out.”
He said the finer details would be worked out by an October, adding that this detail would give members a lot more confidence about how the required number of redundancies might be achieved.
“In the eventuality we have to move towards compulsory redundancies . . . we have had a pledge in place which has been opposed to that – but the pressures are such now because of the savings that we have to make.”
Cllr Andrew Burns, city leader, said: “The pledge still exists – it’s important that [I read it out] because I think it’s important that we hear the totality of it.
“We are committed to establishing a policy of no compulsory redundancies. We have a policy of no compulsory redundancies. There have not been any since we made the pledge.
“All efforts have been made to redeploy surplus staff. We are monitoring the policy on a case by case basis.
“Clearly, there are going to be discussions in the coming months about these issues going forward.”
Cllr Cameron Rose, Conservative group leader, said the council was “convinced of the need” to make that £140m saving in order to “stay solvent”.
“If the administration are serious about delivering services in a lean and efficient way, they will have to embrace a certain number of compulsory redundancies and more efficient delivery, which means some form of outsourcing of some of the remaining council activities which they have not already outsourced,” he added.
Cllr Paul Edie, Liberal Democrat group leader, said he felt the administration should have “dropped” the “no” compulsory redundancy pledge some time ago.
“The front line is not the problem – we have too many managers,” he said. “If we had a high unemployment rate, I would be more nervous about compulsion.”
COUNTING THE COSTS
EDINBURGH City Council is set to consider a number of key proposals to address a £126 million budget shortfall over the next four years.
Planned cost-saving actions across the council include:
• Proposals for a four-year budget framework, targeting shortfall of £126m.
• Additional savings to be made as a result of overspends in health and social care (£10m) and in property (£9.5m).
• Plans for a new Property and Asset Management Strategy to maximise the value of the council’s extensive property estate, potentially saving £80m over ten years.
• Compulsory redundancies making up 60 per cent of its annual budget which fluctuates.