Conservatives criticise North Lanarkshire Council’s £12m severance bill

The leader of North Lanarkshire Council’s Conservative group has criticised payments of more than £12.2m made by the authority to departing staff in recent years.

Councillor Meghan Gallacher says these figures highlight how council resources have been “stretched to the bone” by Scottish Government cuts to local authorities.

The council has made 475 agreements in just the last three years, with the bill totalling over at least £3m in each financial year since 2017/18.

Freedom of Information Act requests show North Lanarkshire was second out of local authorities in terms of agreements made, behind only Aberdeen City which made 555 agreements since 2017.

Councillor Gallacher says money being used to agree redundancy payments and severance packages detracts from frontline services, which have also been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, and has called for more money to be given to local authorities.

She said: “These figures are remarkably revealing about how much North Lanarkshire has had to spend on severance payments in the last few years alone.

“With over £12 million being spent, it only goes to highlight the effects the cuts from the Scottish Government to local authority budgets are having on jobs and in turn frontline services.

“For far too long, local authorities have borne the brunt of SNP cuts and the more councils like ours have to spend on these payments and packages, then more day to day services are going to be affected.

“North Lanarkshire Council are absolutely crying out for a fairer funding deal and I will be continuing to lobby the SNP Government to deliver this.

“The entire way of funding our councils must change urgently from the SNP.”

However, Councillor Tom Johnston, leader of the council’s SNP group, rubbished Councillor Gallacher’s claims.

He said: “Councillor Gallacher’s Tory Group are very muddled regarding North Lanarkshire Council finances. The Tories at council budget time have voted to have less revenue spending in North Lanarkshire, yet they want the Scottish Government to spend more on the council.

“If the Tories want more money from the Scottish Government’s  budget for local authorities, they have to spell out which parts of the Scottish Budget they would cut to achieve this.

“Would they cut NHS or police budgets?

“The Tories omit to mention the many new jobs created in the public sector by the Scottish Government, such as in the vast expansion of nursery education.”

A spokesperson for North Lanarkshire Council said: “The pressures facing councils over a number of years due to continued reductions in government funding and increasing cost pressures are well-documented.

“Since the bulk of the council’s costs are in staff, it is obvious that the many tens of millions of pounds of savings the council has been forced to achieve in the last few years will have an impact on staffing.

“It’s also obvious that, as one of the biggest councils in Scotland, the savings required will mean greater staffing reductions than smaller councils.

“This process has always been prudently managed through voluntary severance and early retirement for which one-off costs exist. However, these one-off costs are offset many times over by the ongoing savings made, which apply every year.

“Comparisons between councils are very difficult to make, given the varying services and structures each council has.

“Audit Scotland, in its independent Best Value Assurance report, found that the council is well-placed to meet the financial challenges that it faces, with good financial planning and a record of delivering savings.”