I had a meeting with some of my cabinet colleagues at Cambridgeshire County Council today where we talked about the recent pay and conditions consultation that has been carried out to help meet the millions of pounds of savings we need to make. I was pleased to see that Cabinet colleagues who had been looking at the consultation results, talking to staff and investigating what happens in other Councils were in agreement. They felt we were right to look at these options but also, like me, agreed it was right not to look further at an across the board pay reduction
There will be an ongoing debate, including using arenas like Group Leaders to ensure that other political groups have their say, but I believe the final recommendations are highly unlikely to include a recommendation to reduce pay.
Cabinet have always wanted this to be a proper consultation and whilst, in light of the savings we have got to make next year, it was right to test the appetite for this measure, it is clear that staff do not want it, it is also clear that some other councils who have implemented similar measures have suffered recruitment and retention difficulties which affect their ability to deliver services (think of the implications, for example, on our ability to protect vulnerable children if we find staff leaving at a faster rate than we would like or if we were struggling to recruit).
I signalled this latter issue as a concern at the last Full Council meeting. It was also included in an email that I sent to the Chief Executive of the County Council on 29th August where I said:
" Another issue was raised with us about terms and conditions. That is, to a degree, inevitable given that the consultation is happening. One aspect raised was about the need for understanding of the wider circumstances that are affecting incomes, such as benefits cuts etc. etc. – things that are outside of our gift, but need to be considered. It is interesting that this was linked to recruitment and retention – which you know was one of my concerns and correlates directly with what I was told by a leader of another authority a few days ago, who had been through a similar process, implemented a 2% cut and is now suffering a R&R problem with social workers as a result. His advice was clear – don’t do it."
I have highlighted this email because it demonstrates that the Cabinet view is entirely based around the interests of the employees of the County Council who are our greatest asset, and because it shows that the line of thinking predates recent political spats about the behaviour of certain Councillors.
The financial pressures facing the Council mean that we still must deliver very significant budget savings so the review of other terms and conditions is on-going -as is consideration of other ways of saving money put forward by staff as part of the consultation.
To me, this is what politics should be about. Having a mature conversation and debate which sets out the problems and look at all the evidence before picking the best course ahead. These are difficult times and we have many difficult and challenging decisions to make to meet the tough savings required. but we aim to do this in a common sense way.
I hope that when staff see all of the formal recommendations around pay and conditions they will recognise that we have made active use of the consultation in coming to a conclusion.