Council paid £2.5m in overtime

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WIGAN Council paid out more than £2.5m in overtime to staff last year despite losing another six per cent of its workforce.

With the authority already forced to make savings of £7m this year on top of the £43m axed during the previous two, it has been revealed that a further 295 employees were shed from the council’s books last year.

In a presentation given to the council’s Audit Governance and Improvement Review Committee, human resources chiefs revealed the shock figures to councillors.

They say they have had no choice to reduce the numbers of staff and say that circumstances and a need to deliver vital services are responsible for the overtime pay-outs.

Sonia Halliwell, assistant director of HR at Wigan Council, said: “Due to budget challenges Wigan Council have been forced to reduce the size of its workforce.

“Wherever possible we have tried to avoid redundancies, 83 per cent of the 295 reported took either voluntary redundancy, early retirement or left through other natural reasons.

“Ensuring vital services continue to operate is our number one priority.

“In winter for example, our highways staff tend to work around the clock, clearing roads and ensuring the highways are safe.

“It would not be cost effective for us to maintain this capacity throughout the year - ensuring the flexibility of our staff at peak times is a much more efficient and viable option.

“We monitor costs closely and continuously review how we can reduce them overall.”

The job losses have been criticised by the GMB union.

Paul McCarthy, GMB Regional Secretary said: “The awful reality is that in the North West alone local government job losses since the general election amount to 20,300.

“There is still more to come. This is part of the over 100,000 job losses across English councils.

“Council workers and their families are paying a terrible price for the government’s austerity drive.

“These job losses are on top of two years of pay freezes and cuts to conditions and pensions. Care workers, refuse collectors, street cleaners, social workers and all the essential front line council staff are bearing the brunt while those at the top wring their hands and look on.”

Last month, deputy chief executive Paul McKevitt, said the council was managing to keep one step ahead of funding cuts.

He said: “This is third year and we’ve become experienced in how to deal with them (cuts).

“At first they came very quickly, we were told to save £21m in the first year and we had to act quickly.

“Now we know what’s coming and we can put projects in place.

“We’re in a recession. It’s not like some are affected and some are not: we’re all in it.

“But we know what’s coming, being part of the public sector, we can plan with some certainty.”