Extra day’s holiday for county-council staff sparks furore

Staff at Northumberland County Council are getting an extra day's holiday this year.
Staff at Northumberland County Council are getting an extra day's holiday this year.

Tories have criticised Northumberland County Council’s Labour administration over the cost of giving 5,000 members of staff an extra day’s holiday, but the authority has maintained nothing has been budgeted for the perk.

A Conservative councillor says that the local authority has budgeted a cost of £400,000 in its internal bookkeeping as a cost of this exercise, despite initially claiming it had no cost, but this has been refuted.

Coun David Bawn said: “Once again Labour has been caught trying to pull a ‘fast one’ on the figures.”

But Steven Mason, lead executive director at the county council, said: “Staff greatly appreciate the recognition shown by the current administration as the last four years have been extremely difficult for local government which has borne the brunt of the Government’s austerity programme, particularly in the more deprived areas of the country.

“The granting of additional day’s leave by the leader was designed to both recognise and reward the contribution of staff over the last four years. Staff have had no or minimal increases in salary, the costs of the pension scheme have increased significantly, and the council has changed terms and conditions in a number of areas of their work. Staff have accepted all of these issues and continued to work hard to serve the residents of Northumberland.

“The council has not budgeted any additional cost as a result of this initiative as for the majority of salaried staff, the additional day will be taken and work covered by colleagues or by the staff themselves. Indeed it could be argued by raising the morale of staff, sickness levels may fall and compensate for the additional day’s leave.”

Conservative group leader Peter Jackson said: “This council should concentrate on trying to improve the terms and conditions of staff by following the lead of other councils in the North East and introduce the Living Wage. In the long run that would be of greater benefit to our staff than a tokenistic gesture such as this. I urge the leadership to immediately take steps to implement the Living Wage in Northumberland.

“The gap in pay is far too great between the fat cats at the top in County Hall and those working hard to provide essential services. Especially in rural Northumberland we have very low average wage rates. It is up to our largest employer, the county council, to set an example as other Councils in the north east have already done.”

Meanwhile, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the Conservative parliamentary candidate, said: “It is not about begrudging the staff their extra holiday, but about the Labour administration not being straight about the true cost of their initiatives. When it comes to the use of council taxpayers’ money, in particular, there needs to be maximum transparency.”

A Labour group spokesman said: “They (local Tories) supported the previous administration when our local ConDem Coalition sacked more than 1,500 staff at Northumberland County Council and we’ll take no lectures from local Tories who are deliberately misleading the public over the cost of new council office accommodation and scaremongering over this issue too.

“We’ll continue to stand up for staff who are raising their game to meet the challenges of ConDem cuts and the extra day’s holiday recognises, in a small way, changes to the pension scheme and increased contributions, revised travel arrangements and the removal of recruitment and retention cars, and a pay freeze over a considerable period of time, all voted for and supported by Northumberland Tories.

“We’ll await with interest the Conservative budget proposals, but history shows us they’d rather speak up for David Cameron than Northumberland.”