NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

Aberdeen City Council faces tough pay decision

Aberdeen City Council has delayed a decision on plans to hold back incremental pay rises for staff to save money.

Only last week the council revealed it would have to make about £120m of savings over the next five years.

The local authority faces a very difficult decision on pay incrementals - just one option being considered to help save it money.

The wage bill is the biggest single cost which councils can control.

Controlling it can take many forms: reducing the number of staff, controlling inflationary pay rises and holding back incremental rises for staff as they move on within their jobs.

Aberdeen believes suspending incremental rises would save £4.5m this year.

So far just one other Scottish council - Midlothian - has frozen incrementals.

Aberdeen has now delayed a decision on incrementals until August. By this time it may be clearer what will be happening with the annual cost of living rises for council workers too.

The majority of staff at all 32 councils are being offered a three year deal - 1% this year, a pay freeze next year and 0.5% in 2012.

Union concerns

Unions are currently holding a ballot on this offer. The result is expected at the end of the month.

Unions are concerned on two counts. They say this offer amounts to a pay cut and are worried about being locked into a three-year deal in case inflation rises.

By the time Aberdeen debates incrementals again, it will be clearer whether council workers across Scotland are prepared to accept a modest pay offer.

However unions are adamant incremental rises are not an alternative to the main pay increase. They say that the ceiling on each salary band is the going rate for the job.

The unions say any move by Aberdeen to abandon incrementals could mean legal and industrial action.

But with tough budget decisions ahead, more generous pay offers would probably lead to even tougher budget decisions elsewhere.

The question for each council now is how to divide up its cake this year - and prepare for even harder choices in the years ahead.

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