Unions’ threat over car mileage

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FURIOUS council workers could walk out in dispute over a threat to slash car mileage rates.

Town hall chiefs want to scrap the existing Essential Car Allowance scheme for staff to help protect key services in the face of Government cuts which will see over £15m axed from budgets.

Hundreds of council workers who use their own vehicle on authority business to serve the public – ranging from social workers and cleansing department staff to planners and pest controllers – are now being balloted for industrial action as the row escalates following months of unsuccessful negotiation.

The plan is to scrap the current £960 allowance that all staff receive and replace it with a flat 52.2p a mile.

But council chiefs say the review of expenses was suggested by staff themselves as a way of saving cash.

Council bosses had wanted to introduce the new expenses and allowances regime at the end of this month.

Unison, which represents the vast majority of Essential Car Allowance recipients, say staff are particularly angry as they have already seen wages frozen and below inflation pay rises, for the last six years.

Industrial action could include a car boycott as well as strike action.

Council bosses insist that they want to introduce a “fair but more relevant” mileage allowance scheme, and claim that a number of staff had been paid the allowance last year, but hadn’t completed any business mileage for the council.

Senior Unison shop steward in Social Care Dave Lowe said: “This cut in our salaries heralds a new round of attacks by the council on our conditions of service, or as they like to call it ‘new ways or different ways of working.

“Yet again public sector workers are being made to pay the price for a financial crisis opened up by the greed and irresponsibility of the bankers.

“Our members are under no illusion that this will be the end of the attacks.

“They know that the ultimate aim is to soften us up for privatisation.”

Retiring Unison Branch Secretary Stuart Fenton said that in order to provide top quality public services staff “need the tools to do the job” and to feel valued by the council.

He said: “The decision of the council to withdraw the Essential Car User Allowance will only further demoralise hard pressed public servants, but ultimately lead to the diminishing of the quality of the services they provide.

“We have to make a stand now and make the council re-evaluate their decision.”

Council chiefs say that at least 15 per cent of staff currently getting the allowance as a lump sum haven’t claimed any business mileage during the year.

While less than 10 per cent only claimed between five and 200 miles during the same period.

The proposed new mileage allowance proposes re-imbursing staff for vehicle use for business at the higher mileage rate of 52.2p per mile, which was higher than the rate currently recommended by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.

Deputy Chief Cxecutive of the Council Paul McKevitt said that the current scheme needed to be reviewed because it was based on the job role rather than the amount of “business” mileage the member of staff undertook.

He insisted that staff themselves had suggested reviewing the scheme as one of the ways for the authority to counter the effects of the Government’s spending cuts.

Mr McKevitt said: “We felt that the previous scheme needed altering to make it relevant and to ensure fairness.

“This new scheme will help us to save £500,000 a year, equating to around 20 jobs and contributing towards the £15m we have to cut to meet our savings this current financial year.

“The reality of the matter is that we have to make savings and we want to avoid making job cuts.”