THE COUNCIL leader has explained the need to consult on potential redundancies at Merthyr Tydfil Council.
Councillor Geraint Thomas has set out why the council is issuing a section 188 letter to unions to start a 45-day consultation exercise to identify how to make savings, with redundancies being an option.
It was approved by councillors on Wednesday, January 17 and the council will also notify the secretary of state for business, energy, and industrial strategy of the potential for 100 voluntary or compulsory redundancies. The council said it would “require the facility” to make some of the necessary budget savings through redundancy.
Following the recent announcement of the provisional Welsh Local Government settlement on December 20, Merthyr Tydfil is set to receive a funding increase of 3.4% for the 2024/25 financial year.
Despite this, the council’s medium-term financial plan (MTFP) for 2023/24 to 2026/27, approved by the council on March 8, indicated a budget deficit of £10.5 million for 2024/25, escalating to an overall deficit of £23.3 million over the period of the plan.
Taking into account additional funding from the settlement and increased costs due to the pay award, high inflation, and unavoidable additional demands, the revised budget deficit for 2024/25 now stands at around £13 million.
Cllr Thomas said: “In response to this challenging financial climate, we are actively exploring budget reduction opportunities.
Unfortunately, this process necessitates making tough decisions about the services we can sustain and those we may need to discontinue.
“These decisions may lead to job losses, and we must be prepared for this unfortunate outcome.
“Our staff are our most valuable asset and we will seek volunteers for redundancy in an effort to keep the number of compulsory redundancies to a minimum or avoid the need for them altogether.
“Collaboration with the relevant trades unions is crucial for credible and achievable savings.
“This is an extremely difficult time for all local authorities across Wales and the scale of the challenge is significant. I want to take this opportunity to thank our officers who are working tirelessly to identify savings.”
At the full council meeting where the issuing of the letter was approved, Labour group leader Councillor Darren Roberts said it was an “extremely sad situation” that they find themselves having to do this but that it was a “necessary evil” and they all wish things could be different.
He asked if it could be acknowledged that a recommendation to reduce facilities time for trade unions was the wrong decision but deputy leader of the council and cabinet member for finance, Councillor Andrew Barry, said the issue wasn’t whether it was done, it was who was paying and he said the unions should be picking up the time as the council was paying for unions to represent their members, and he said that was “fundamentally wrong.”
Councillor Declan Sammon, independent, said it was terrible that they had found themselves in this position yet again and asked if they could consider giving voluntary early retirement to those who ask for it.
Cllr Darren Roberts said he was not surprised that Cllr Andrew Barry was “dragging his heels” and refusing to acknowledge that they made the wrong decision.
He said there was a comment at the time that they didn’t envisage any further redundancies and yet here they were.
He said it was a “bit shortsighted” and fellow Labour councillor Clive Jones said they’ve got to talk to trade unions particularly when talking about voluntary and compulsory redundancies, adding that he hoped the five days facilities time for trade union representatives continued from April.
The council leader said: “Our staff are our most precious asset” and said it was going to be a “difficult year for us” if they lost up to 100 employees.
Cllr Geraint Thomas said they’d got a good working relationship with the unions but said that in the last six or seven years, issuing a section 188 letter has been like an annual report.
He said: “We shouldn’t be doing that. We all came in to serve the people of Merthyr Tydfil and get better services for them. Unfortunately all we seem to be doing is cutting. At some point it has to stop. We are on a treadmill to oblivion. It has to stop at some point.”
He said they need Welsh Government and UK Government to put more money into local government.
All employees whose contracts are under NJC ‘green book’ terms and conditions are included in the consultation exercise plus those on JNC chief officer conditions and the chief executive are affected.
‘Green book’ employees working within schools form part of this consultation exercise but teachers are excluded from the grounds contained within this section 188.
The report said that the council intended to work with schools in realising the changes for school-based staff in the interest of equality and fairness to all employees.
The council report said that the intention of the council’s union consultation was for representatives to work with the trades union in reviewing all non-employee savings and proposals that affected employees and where there was an identified need to make redundancies the trades unions would be fully engaged during this process.