Northumberland backs down on pay freeze plan

Northumberland Council has withdrawn a plan to freeze pay for social care staff from April because of pressure from trade unions.

The council last month wrote to more than 1,600 staff, including about 80 social care workers from children’s and adults’ services, telling them it would be withholding contractual pay rises to help tackle a £30m budget deficit.

Those due an annual wage rise of between £350 and £700 would have been fired but re-hired the next day to allow the council to change their contracts.

However, in a meeting with unions Unite, Unison and GMB today, the council revealed it had decided not to withhold the pay rises after all.

Tony Martin, regional officer for Unison, said its members had been “incensed” by the plans and were now relieved the council had listened to their concerns.

The north-eastern authority is one of several councils that invested in a failed Icelandic bank, but it claimed this money was not included in the £30m deficit.

A Northumberland Council spokesperson said the shortfall was due to the recession, a restructure of former district and borough councils, and a fall in grant funding.

Council leader Jeff Read added: “These are unprecedented times and we’ve had to consider every possible option to make savings. But after consulting staff and listening to what they have to say, we have decided not to freeze increments. Staff have come up with a number of other savings options, some of these are already being actively pursued while other suggestions will need more discussions and consultation with unions. We are still under intense financial pressure and it will be a severe challenge to find the savings we need, but I am confident we will be able to deliver a viable budget.”

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