Council ‘bonus’: Finance officer’s ‘grave concerns’

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A LEADING finance officer at Ashfield District Council has expressed his ‘grave concerns’ over controversial plans to give council staff a ‘Christmas bonus.’

The Dispatch reported last week how Labour councillors put an emergency motion forward for a one-off payment to be given to full and part-time staff earning less than £21,000.

The move, which is costing £73,000, has been strongly criticised by opposition councillors and the council’s own finance chief.

In a letter to all councillors, David Greenwood, deputy chief executive and chief finance officer, expressed ‘grave concerns’ saying the money has not been factored in the budget and could lead to further cuts at the cash-strapped authority.

He said: “I must warn you of my grave concerns relating the decision made by the council relating to the payment of a ‘Christmas bonus’ to a number of the council’s employees.”

Mr Greenwood added how £1.6m in savings has been identified for 2013/14 to balance the budget, which has not factored in a £73,000 payment to staff in 2012.

He said: “The decision to bring this ‘Urgent Motion’ to council was taken with no involvement of officers.

“Officers should have been approached to give information on the possible implications of the motion.”

Despite the concerns, the Dispatch understands payments to over 300 workers have already been made with full-time staff getting £250 and part-time workers gaining a pro-rata amount.

When contacted, Coun John Knight (Lab), leader of the council, gave a ‘no comment’ response.

Ashfield’s Labour MP Gloria De Piero also declined to comment on the matter.

Linford Gibbons, Labour councillor for Kirkby East, and Richard Buckwell, Chair of Ashfield UNISON Branch, both said the payments were not a ‘Christmas bonus’ as the money had been promised by the coalition government, and set aside by the council, in 2011 and 2012. Both added how staff have endured a three-year pay freeze.

Mr Buckwell said: “It’s nothing to do with a Christmas bonus. We have been pushing for this for months.”

A meeting, due to take place on Wednesday, was due to discuss a further motion to extend the £250 payments to all council staff at an additional cost of over £50,000.