Extra holiday for staff sparks row at county council

Claims that granting workers at Northumberland County Council an extra day’s holiday will not cost the authority have been criticised by the Conservative group.

The one-off gesture for about 5,000 of its staff, all except those working in schools, was authorised by the Labour administration last month.

A formal request was made by the Conservatives and the group says £400,000 has been budgeted for this measure in the council’s internal bookkeeping. It accused the party in charge at County Hall of being ‘misleading’ when stating that there will be no additional cost (revenue neutral was the term used).

However, lead executive director Steven Mason has now denied that such an allocation has been made.

Coun David Bawn, Conservative member for Morpeth North, said: “Whilst no-one begrudges the staff their extra holiday, it is beholden on the administration to be straight with council taxpayers regarding the true costs of their initiatives.

“Once again, Labour has been caught trying to pull a ‘fast one’ on the figures.”

Mr Mason said: “The granting of an additional day’s leave by the leader (Grant Davey) was designed to both recognise and reward the contribution of staff over the last four years, a period in which local government bore the brunt of the Government’s austerity programme.

“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 residents.

“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 that by raising the morale of staff, sickness levels may fall and compensate for the additional day’s leave.”