A DECISION to pay Ashfield District Council staff more than £70,000 in Christmas ‘bonuses’ has been slammed as “complete lunacy”.
An emergency motion was rushed through at last week’s full council meeting which will see all staff who earn under £21,000 get a £250 one-off payment.
The motion was put forward by Labour councillor Mick Coppin and backed by fellow members of the council’s majority party.
But opposition councillors and members of the public say they are staggered that taxpayers’ money is being used for the payments when people in the district are struggling to buy Christmas presents.
Coun Jason Zadrozny, Liberal Democrat group leader, is angry that councillors weren’t given all the facts about how much it was going to cost or where the money was coming from.
It has now been worked out at costing about £73,000.
Coun Zadrozny said: “At time when everyone is struggling and the council is facing compulsory redundancies, it’s shameful.
“It’s asking people who earn minimum wage to pay someone’s bonus who earns more than them.
“Every member of staff at the council will be able to buy their Christmas presents, while those earning less won’t be able to afford it.
“It’s the wrong time to do this. There’s already £1.6m which needs cutting from the budget so this will probably result in another five or six redundancies next year. It’s complete lunacy.
Independent councillor Gail Turner added: “It’s wrong, Ashfield District Council can’t afford this, if they could they should be giving something back to the people of Ashfield.
“It’s a union-led thing, it’s like being thrown back to 1979 where the unions ruled the roost.
“It doesn’t take into account people’s performance or if they have been off sick, it’s just right across the board.
“There aren’t even any incentives for the money to be spent in Ashfield. People will probably go and spend the money at Meadowhall so the district gets no benefit whatsoever.
“We did everything we could to stop it, but got out-voted.”
Coun Coppin believes the bonuses are justified.
He said: “Ashfield District Council workers have now endured three years of a pay freeze.
“In these most difficult of times our staff have worked tirelessly in partnership with this authority to protect services, improve quality and bring forward financial savings.
“The money to pay for this will come out of the contingency we had put aside for a one per cent pay increase.
“Ashfield District Council sincerely appreciates the stalwart work, loyalty and commitment of all its staff and wishes to take this opportunity to publicly thank each and every one of them.”
The decision comes just a fortnight after the Dispatch revealed that the council has signed up to the Living Wage initiative, which means low-paid staff will earn above and beyond the national minimum wage.
n MEMBERS of the public have reacted with disbelief at the controversial plans, saying it is a slap in the face to those earning minimum wage.
The bonuses were instigated by the Unison and GMB trade unions, who claim the lower paid staff missed out on getting £250 over the last two years.
But Ashfield resident Carole Clarke-Dolan thinks there are far more people in need of the extra cash.
She said: “I don’t begrudge paying my taxes to fund services for our communities, that is what the system is about.
“However, I do resent those taxes being shared out in pay bonuses to people whom are already being paid well above minimum wage, and especially at a time when our communities are having to suffer cuts in services.”
John Watson said: “This is a shocking decision and a disgraceful waste of my taxpayer’s money. Only in the public sector could his happen.
“Everyone has worked hard this year in many businesses and they will just be grateful they have a job.”
Kenneth Taylor said: “How dare they? I don’t begrudge the bonus, it’s the way it’s been done.”
A spokesman from Unison and GMB said: “Trade unions support pay awards for low paid. Ashfield District Council is to be congratulated for making a one off payment of £250 to its lowest paid employees.
“We have been contacted by many members who have told us that the payment will make a significant difference to their Christmas.
“It is worth considering that whilst some people in Ashfield may consider the payment to be generous, it does still fall short of the recommendation, made by the chancellor of the exchequer, that low paid public sector workers should have received £250 for the last two years.”