Social workers at Southampton Council are facing a 5% pay cut and reductions in car allowances, sick pay and other supplements, under plans that have triggered angry protests from unions.
The council wants to introduce the cuts in April alongside 250 redundancies in order to save £20m over the next two years.
The proposals will affect all council staff, including the council’s 140 social workers among a total of 2,000 staff in children’s and adult services.
Unison members voted to oppose the cuts, and threatened to ballot for strike action if the changes went ahead.
Secretary of the union’s Southampton branch, Mike Tucker, who represents 2,500 council staff – most of whom work in social care – said the plans would backfire.
“If the cuts are introduced, many social workers will leave Southampton Council and work for nearby councils. The authority already employs a high number of agency social workers in child protection,” he said.
Among the controversial proposals, the council’s Conservative administration wants to:
• Reduce paid working hours by two hours per week, amounting to an average 5.4% reduction in hours and pay.
• Remove all pay increases and cost of living pay awards for the next two years.
• Cut sick pay.
• Reduce mileage rates from 54p to 40p per mile.
Tucker said: “I don’t agree that the council has to make this level of cuts. It’s still spending money on other projects such as council tax discounts for people over 65.
“The cuts will affect some of the lowest paid staff at the council, such as care workers. It will eventually cost the council more money – the councillors proposing these changes don’t understand how the council works.”
Deputy leader of the council’s Conservative administration, Jeremy Moulton, stressed that the plans were still at the negotiation stage.
“We are in discussions with unions but if we are unable to change staff terms and conditions to reduce hours then it is estimated that a further 400 jobs could be lost over two years,” he said.
“Children’s social services have been effectively ring-fenced from cuts and we are investing £1m more from next year in addition to the increase in the budget for this area in recent years. We are in fact recruiting more children’s social workers to bring caseloads down.”
A press statement from the council said the cuts were being introduced following the government’s recent comprehensive spending review, expected to result in the loss of more than a quarter of its funding over the next four years.
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