Fringe Box



Steep Rise in Redundancies at Guildford Borough Council

Published on: 3 Aug, 2012
Updated on: 20 Aug, 2012

Guildford Borough Council Offices at Millmead

Redundancies at our ‘morale-hit’ GBC have shot up from five in the accounting year 2010-11 to 37 (31 compulsory) in the  year 2011-12, costing taxpayers nearly £800,000.

The number of staff departures has also increased from 91 in 2010-11 to 212 in 2011-12, but most of the increase is said to be because 106 council staff transferred to the outsourced Spectrum Sports Centre.

In contrast, Woking and Waverley councils reports no compulsory redundancies in 2011-12. There were six voluntary redundancies in Woking, costing £373k and at Waverley three ‘other departures agreed’, costing £128k.

The GBC redundancy figures are in the draft Statement of Accounts on the council’s website. The statement is still subject to audit, hence its draft status. In the background to the figures are continuing assertions of poor staff morale most recently alleged in a letter to the Council Executive from seven Hon Aldermen and published on TGDN on 16 July.

A further revelation is the apparent value of the termination payment for former Strategic Director Jim Miles, in the wake of his suspension which was so swiftly followed by retirement in April, seven months before his official retirement date. Only one payment of £30,000 was made to anyone at the Strategic Director grade. Mr Miles, who was on £90,000 a year, is also now believed to be drawing a GBC pension.

The question remains unanswered about why any payment was necessary if Mr Miles was believed to have committed something serious enough to warrant suspension. Mr Miles’s wife Elaine was also suspended before leaving GBC. The amount of her termination payment is impossible to deduce because several officers of her grade received payments and the published records do not include names.

The council has consistently refused to answer questions on the subject, citing staff confidentiality. It is understood that a confidentiality agreement was signed by the council and Mr and Mrs Miles. It is not known why this was felt necessary.

Liberal Democrat Councillor Anne Meredith (Friary & St Nicolas) said: “Guildford residents have a right to a clear statement from Guildford Borough Council about why this termination payment was apparently made to Jim Miles.”

Cllr Stephen Mansbridge (Con, Ash South & Tongham), Lead Councillor for Communities and Services, who commented at the last council Executive meeting that GBC staff morale was good, said of the redundancies: “It is vitally important that the Council secures real value for money as well as delivering excellent services. Identifying efficiency improvements, which sometimes result in reduced staff numbers, does not mean a reduced customer service. Our aim is to maintain the Council’s Customer Service Excellence reputation as we work to provide some services in a different way.”

The councillor denied there was an official redundancy programme or that targets had been set, adding: “The increase in 2011-12 reflects our open and ongoing review of services. This constant review ensures we continue to provide local residents with high-quality services in the most efficient and cost-effective way.”

Sue Sturgeon, Strategic Director and CFO, stated: “In 2010, we identified that the Council needed to make savings of between £5 million and £8 million during the period to 2014-15, to accommodate reductions in Government funding and set a balanced budget each year.

“The figures in our draft statement of accounts are the culmination of several review programmes. They reflect decisions made by the Council’s Executive and the results of internal restructures to refocus our activity.

“This includes withdrawing from loss-making chargeable services or simply recognising that some work is no longer required. In most cases, the reviews mean we can provide services with less resource by making better use of technology or reducing management costs.

“Some of the service transformation in 2011-12 also responded to external challenges such as changing customer demand and reductions in service specific and other grants. Some significant decisions were agreed and carried out during 2011-12 that contributed to the increase in one-off redundancy costs. These included changes to our emergency communications service, engineers’ service and the closure of the cash office.

“Although these changes resulted in redundancy costs for 2011-12, they will achieve ongoing and sustainable savings in annual service costs. Many restructures pay back within a year and almost all of them within two years. We also apply a maximum payback period on any restructure of four years.

“We follow the statutory requirements when publishing all financial data, including salary and other payments. It is also important to realise that the figures in our accounts are the cost to the Council, including any costs related to pensions, and not necessarily what any individual has received.”

Cllr Angela Gunning (Lab, Stoke), Leader of the two councillor Labour Group, said: “Understanding GBC’s figures in the draft Statement of Accounts takes some doing. Redundancies and cutting the salaries bill was first proposed two years ago, so tracking through the Budget Books and Executive Committee decisions is very tricky. And, of course, following the 2011 Borough elections, 16 new Councillors joined the Council who would be unaware of these decisions and their significance.

“Identifying exactly which service is being cut is a tortuous process, not helped by the apparent inconsistencies from one year to the next. The Labour Group is continuing to investigate this issue.”

Share This Post