Union fury at Aberdeen Council plan to axe 900 jobs

Aberdeen City Council is to axe 900 jobs next year as it battles for survival in the new age of austerity for the public sector.

The local authority announced plans to cut 10% of its workforce yesterday as part of brutal spending cuts that aim to save up to £127million over five years.

Trade unions reacted furiously to the move – which was announced just hours after the Scottish Government revealed its draft budget for the year.

Finance Secretary John Swinney proposed a pay freeze for tens of thousands of public-sector workers to help save £1.3billion – but there was relief that Aberdeen’s bypass would be spared the axe.

Union chiefs feared the government’s plans could cost up to 20,000 public-sector jobs across the country.

At the same time as Mr Swinney was telling MSPs he hoped to avoid compulsory redundancies, Aberdeen City Council was saying it was “unlikely” that this would be possible.

Grant Bruce, Aberdeen secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland teaching union, criticised the council’s five-year savings plan.

“I am concerned that we are out on a limb compared to the other 31 Scottish local authorities and I would hate for Aberdeen to be seen as the council that enjoyed making cuts to public services,” he said.

Proposals to shed 900 jobs follow close to 1,000 job losses over the last three years after a financial crisis plunged the council into chaos in 2008.

Councillors will consider the plans at a key meeting in two weeks to discuss the authority’s controversial five-year business plan.

Tommy Campbell, north-east organiser for the Unite union, said: “This is an utterly disgraceful measure to announce just before Christmas.

“We will be putting forward arguments to protect against compulsory redundancies.”

The number of proposed job losses increased after the council backed down earlier this month over plans to save £4.5million from delaying automatic pay-scale rises due to 6,555 employees.

Council leader John Stewart said: “This is an inevitable consequence when you look at the level of savings councils are going to have to make.

“You can stick your head in the sand and pretend it will be all right in a year, like the Scottish Government has done, or do what we have done.”

Job cuts could affect all council departments, including music instructors, classroom assistants, teachers, social work staff, sports centre workers and managers.

The city council issued the trade unions with section 188 notices yesterday, officially giving them 90 days’ notice of possible redundancies.

A statement said the authority was “anticipating a reduction of 900 employees in 2011-12 to cut its costs, equivalent to 10% of the workforce, or 750 full-time equivalent posts”.

Opposition Labour group leader Barney Crockett said: “Yes, without a doubt, the financial situation poses problems for all councils, but here we have got a council which appears to have lost all contact with its staff.”

The council’s business plan contains 750 options to save up to £127million over the next five years.

Finance committee members will decide on December 2 whether the job losses should be made through voluntary severance or compulsory redundancies.

The Press and Journal understands the severance packages would cost the council up to £12million.

A local authority spokes-man said: “The city council will open consultations with its workforce on the selection criteria to be used for compulsory redundancies because the required level of job reductions is unlikely to be achieved through voluntary severance and early retirement.”