Surrey council in talks with unions to cut ‘huge pay bill’

Surrey County Council is currently in talks with unions about how to cut the authority’s “huge pay bill” ahead of expected budget cuts, Personnel Today has learned.

Deputy head of HR Matthew Baker has told the magazine he was negotiating with unions on some “radical solutions” as to how the council’s 29,000 permanent staff, including schools, would be paid.

The authority needs to make £119m worth of cost savings over the next four years, he said.

As union talks were ongoing, with no definitive plans outlined, Baker could not comment on whether staff would have to reapply for their own jobs under new terms and conditions.

But, he said: “We are trying to minimise the detrimental impact on staff. There are 29,000 people working across the county, we have a huge pay bill and we have to cut back. There are no easy answers.

“We are going to have to see some pretty radical solutions to the way people are paid – that’s pretty predictable. We have to look at all sorts of options as to how we can tighten the budget.”

Baker stressed that the council was working hard to make efficiency savings in other areas, such as cutting overtime arrangements and freezing staff pay this year, in anticipation of the budget cuts.

Surrey HR team leads the way to save council money

Surrey has begun providing recruitment support for neighbouring district council Waverley, in a bid to save tens of thousands of pounds.

Deputy head of HR Matthew Baker is, in effect, seconded to Waverley for 10 hours each week, over six months, to help improve the recruitment process and set up systems used at Surrey which are more efficient.

Previously Waverley hired in consultants to help run its recruitment function, but under an agreement reached earlier this year, it now pays Surrey £15,000 for providing its expertise.

Waverley is understood to also be considering using Surrey’s payroll service, and other councils in the area, including Woking, are said to be interested in signing similar agreements.

Baker said: “We could make tens of thousands of pounds worth of savings once we’ve got more boroughs and districts on board. It is early days but this is a noteworthy issue because this is the first time Surrey as a county has come together to tackle efficiency savings, and HR is right at the forefront of it.”

Workers were no longer able to negotiate their salaries up the pay scale, he added, but as to whether percentage increases would be awarded to employees with good appraisal ratings – as Kent County Council recently announced it would introduce – Baker remains silent until union talks are completed.

However, Baker could not rule out redundancies. “Given the number of staff we’ve got and given the budget cuts we’ve got to make in the county I think job losses may have to take place, they cannot be avoided.”

Union negotiations were expected to end this week.

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