County council accused of ‘punishing’ residents and staff over decision to force many council workers to take three days unpaid leave at Christmas

Shire Hall, Cambridge, may be up for sale but it is still the centre of debate for Cambridgeshire Co

Shire Hall, Cambridge, may be up for sale but it is still the centre of debate for Cambridgeshire County Council and scene of a furious row over enforced Christmas leave for some staff. Picture: STRUTT & PARKER - Credit: Archant

The county council has been accused of “punishing” Cambridgeshire residents and council staff as both staff and councillors will have to take three days mandatory leave over the Christmas period, the equivalent of a 1.2 per cent pay cut.

In October, Cambridgeshire County Council was labelled a “Grinch” when it was announced it was imposing three days of unpaid time off on council workers over the Christmas period.

Staff will have to take three days off without pay between Christmas and New Year, losing the equivalent of 1.2 per cent of their annual pay. The move, the council hopes, will help plug a £5million hole in its budget.

The council says the mandatory unpaid leave has been part of a “collective agreement” Cambridgeshire County Council signed with unions in 2014. They stress that “essential services” will remain functioning and will not be affected.

On Tuesday (December 11), Cambridgeshire County Council voted not only to back the mandatory leave, but to agree to the equivalent pay cut themselves, meaning councillors will lose out on 1.2 per cent of their allowances, spread over a 12 month period.

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A spokesman for the council said the plan will save £900,000, and that imposed unpaid leave affects only those earning more than £26,470 a year.

The motion, which called for councillors to accept the move is “fair” was hotly contested, with many councillors expressing their dissatisfaction at having to impose leave on staff.

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Lib Dem councillor Lorna Dupré said: “The piggy bank is empty, and staff are being made to pay for it. Staff are being told to pay for the council’s financial ineptitude.”

Cllr Dupré’s Lib Dem colleague Sebastian Kindersley went further, accusing the Conservatives on the council of “rank hypocrisy” and saying they were “gnashing their teeth about the parlous situation our finances are in.”

Cllr Kindersley said the decision not to increase council tax for many years had been an attempt to appease UKIP who, before 2017, had had influence in the county.

“If [council leader] Cllr Count had not been frit, he would have been able to use a backbone to increase council tax instead of giving in to the pressures of UKIP,” said Cllr Kindersley. “It is absolutely breathtaking that the people he intends to punish for that are not only the people of Cambridgeshire, but his own work colleagues.”

Conservative Lina Joseph hit back, saying councils across the country are facing a lack of funding, and that the problem was a national one. She said the council’s chief executive Gillian Beasley had been working hard with council staff to make sure this would never happen again.

“This decision has not been an easy one,” said Cllr Joseph. “We will continue to work hard to stop this situation taking place again.”

Many councillors pointed out the council had agreed in 2017 to give themselves a basic pay rise of more than £2,000, having previously been taking home a basic allowance of £7,933, the lowest in the country. The chamber heard concerns this was not right now that staff were being expected to take a pay cut.

Conservative Anna Bailey, however, said the council got “huge value” from its “hugely dedicated” councillors, and said increased allowances should not be seen as a “dirty word.”

Cllr Bailey said it was important councillors got proper allowances for what is “more than a full time job”.

Labour’s Sandra Crawford said many councillors would support reducing councillors’ allowances in solidarity with staff, and pointed out that many councillors had already arranged to do so or to make donations to unions instead.

She said, however, that the motion also called on councillors to support the mandatory leave for staff which, she said, was something many in the chamber were not prepared to do. Cllr Crawford said making members’ votes public was an “anti-democratic, intimidatory, and bullying” attempt to shame opposition councillors into voting for something they could not support.

Cllr Count said making councillors’ vote on the motion in public was not an attempt to “name and shame” them but, rather, a bid to be more open and accountable to public scrutiny.

When councillors voted on the motion, 33 voted to support it, 21 opposed it, and one councillor abstained. The motion was carried. A further motion from Labour’s Cllr Crawford attempting to overturn the mandatory leave was defeated.

According to the council, services that will remain open, or will be providing service during the three day closure include:

The three learning disability in-house respite units and eight supported living properties; hospital discharge social work teams in all local hospitals in the county or on its borders; a children’s social care team in three areas of the county – Hunts & St Neots, City/South/East, and Fens; social workers providing emergency fostering support, supervised contact for families or responsible for missing, exploited or trafficked children and young people; social workers who work with adults and older people requiring support in the community and mental health support for those that need it, and for clients of our Learning Disability Partnership; adult early help staff supporting people with alternatives to hospital or residential care; officers working to prevent support those who suffer domestic violence and abuse; staff who arrange home care and care home places for vulnerable adults.

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