Council in talks over £2m cost of holiday ‘freebies’

EMERGENCY talks are being held over staff perks at a Yorkshire council after it emerged more than £2m a year was being spent on extended summer bank holidays.

Hull Council was closed for an extra “concessionary” day during the May Bank Holiday weekend, with all 8,000 employees getting the Tuesday as well as the Monday as paid leave.

The same four-day break will take place during bank holidays in August and at Christmas.

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The authority, in common with many councils across the country, has approved swingeing cuts to save more than £65m, including cutting £1m from street cleaning, which will now focus on “high- profile areas” and £500,000 from road repairs and closing six disabled day centres and one disabled care home.

Sources told the Yorkshire Post that very few councils still offered concessionary days, claiming the practice was “outdated”. Many instead added extra time off to annual leave to ensure councils remained open outside official holiday times.

Kirklees Council offers concessionary days to certain areas of its workforce – but only for about 10 per cent of its total staff, which a spokesman said, was under review. In the East Riding a spokesman said the council’s extra summer bank holiday days were transferred to the Christmas statutory holidays.

The new Labour administration in Hull is holding preliminary talks with union chiefs about changing the terms and conditions of the authority’s workforce to annualised hours.

Sources said that, while this may not be popular, it could save £2.5m a year in overtime payments, potentially saving hundreds of jobs, while stopping bank holiday “freebies”.

Hull East MP Karl Turner claimed the previous Liberal Democrat administration “was not interested in saving services or jobs”.

He added: “Clearly Labour’s plans are at a consultancy stage and they will talk through what to do with the unions and staff. But in principle it is an initiative I would support.

“Hull is already a low-employment economy. If I was faced with a choice between losing jobs or moving to annualised hours, which could save up to £2.5m, I have to choose the latter.”

Liberal Democrat deputy leader and former city council cabinet member Mike Ross said: “We looked at a number of ways to make savings with regards to the terms and conditions for staff – our concerns were always about providing the best possible services for the people of Hull.

“Labour’s proposal is interesting – prior to the election they made great play about protecting the terms and conditions of the workforce. The question I want to ask is whether this previous stance is now being broken.”

The announcement of Hull’s budget prompted angry scenes earlier this year as protesters campaigned against the cuts that would mean more than 1,000 jobs being axed.

All but two day care centres are expected to close and a letter was sent to relatives of adults with learning disabilities telling them there will be fewer pub lunches, bowling, horse-riding and trips to the cinema and more “in-house activities”.

There will also be increased charges for adult social care, while more than 500 jobs were set to go in children and youth services.

Opening hours at the city’s museums and art gallery will be reduced and one of four council waste recycling sites will close.

Labour, which had won union backing for its plans, hopes to save hundreds of jobs by cutting staff hours to 35 from 37.

The Government has warned councils they should prioritise front-line services when making cuts.

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “Local government pay, perks and conditions are a matter for local determination.

“Councils will want to review such terms and conditions when they consider how to make sensible savings and protect front-line services.”