Edinburgh Council could employ redundant staff as consultants

SENIOR staff taking redundancy from the council could be brought back as external consultants just days later.

Thursday, 17th March 2016, 5:45 am
Updated Thursday, 17th March 2016, 7:03 am
Alison Johnstone is worried council is making staff redundant, only to bring them back as consultants getting paid two or three times as much. Picture: contributed

Almost 500 council employees have already taken voluntary redundancy as part of swingeing cuts aimed at saving at least £148 million over the next four years.

A report due to go before councillors today recommends barring those who leave from being re-employed for one year.

But procurement rules mean this won’t prevent those same staff being brought back as consultants – even if that means doing a similar job to the one they held before.

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Critics have slammed the council for raising “the spectre of staff leaving on a Friday and coming back in on Monday, as a consultant, to do the same job, at two or three times the cost”.

The move comes as it was revealed the council could shell out up to £100,000 to employ an outside consultant for six months to oversee the “staff transformation programme” – the authority’s ongoing reshuffle aimed at streamlining services in the face of cuts.

And last week, the News revealed city leaders will splash out £62,000 on consultants to review the Capital’s popular lollipop patrols, raising concerns the service could be slashed just months after it was saved from the chop.

Green MSP Alison Johnstone said she was “increasingly worried” about “the early signs of a hollowed-out council – one that has lost too many experienced staff too quickly and is then having to scrabble around to pay consultants at two or three times the rate to do the same job”.

She added: “If the council is serious about driving down consultant costs by £2 million next year, it needs to look long and hard at the number of staff it is losing.

“To be frank, if a staff member is so vital as to be needed as a consultant, the council should be retaining him or her as a staff member in the first place.

“I don’t want hollowed-out councils where we pay through the nose for consultancy fees. And nor, I believe, do people who use public services.”

Eben Wilson, director of Taxpayer Scotland, said: “As cutbacks begin to bite, the public sector should not use a revolving door to bring staff back on its books.”

But a council spokeswoman stressed the redundancy process would ensure staff with the “required skills” are retained.

She said: “As a result of the council transformation programme, we recognise that a number of staff will be leaving over the coming months, and that it is therefore necessary to take a consistent position on the re-employment of staff leaving through Voluntary Redundancy (VR) and Voluntary Early Release (VERA) arrangements.

“In light of procurement regulations, we can’t apply the recommended time bar to potential contractors who have received VR or VERA, but it still very much the council’s aim to deliver more efficient processes and a greater degree of service integration.”