Council vows: no jobs cuts in 2011

REDUNDANCIES are not on the cards for Southern Downs Regional Council staff despite the state-imposed moratorium on sackings coming to an end next March.

As the council carries out its asset management and service review, CEO Rod Ferguson told the Daily News the future of its 365 permanent employees was “generally secure” and that there was little room for a reduction in staff without simultaneous reductions in service.

The 2008 amalgamation of the Stanthorpe and Warwick Shire Councils carried with it a three-year rule, insisted on by unions, that the new local authority was not allowed to shed jobs.

The 2010-2011 budget, released last week, sets aside $19,993,394 for total staff wages and salaries for the next year, with an average salary of around $50,000.

This figure is forecast to increase to $20,937,372 in 2012.

With the ban on sackings coming to an end, increasing pressure from State Government for councils to operate in the black and a tight new budget, streamlining staff seems an obvious choice.

However Mr Ferguson was keen to point out any staff losses would be through “natural attrition”.

“The message to staff is, we will not be offering redundancies – apart from anything else, redundancies carry a cost,” he said.

Southern Downs Regional Council has 365 permanent employees and 35 casual staff on its books.

According to the CEO there is an eight to 10 percent turnover in staff each year through events like retirement, resignation and maternity leave, which equates to around 30 to 40 people leaving.

Over the last two-and-a-half years, there has been an overall increase in staff of four-and-a-half per cent, which means council is replacing those who leave as well as employing extra bodies.

Mr Ferguson argues that several of these new positions have been created as a direct result of devolution of state government legislation, such as the controversial cat registration, which has already led to two new openings this year.

With this in mind, Mr Ferguson said council staffing levels were already at a bare minimum and reduction in bodies would inevitably mean a reduction in services – something he said the local authority was reluctant to do.

“There would be no sense to rushing in to mass reductions. We really are not expecting to see any ability to reduce numbers, unless we reduce service.

“We don’t have a supply of staff sitting around looking for jobs to do.

“Council doesn’t want to reduce service.

“Even if you look at a five percent reduction, that’s 15 to 20 people, and that translates to two to three employees out of each of our administrative departments. Outdoors that is two gangs of workers and already we have complaints from residents about service levels, losing two teams would have a huge impact.”

Mr Ferguson said local population increases were also to be taken into consideration and defended the number of bureaucratic positions in council.

“Local government is an entity that exists only through legislation. We deal with all types of legislation and every facet of these organisations is controlled through our administrative staff. We can’t provide services without administrative staff and professional staff,” he said.

As well as paying staff on its books, council spends thousands of dollars each year hiring external consultants to fill gaps in skills or employee time. The Daily News is awaiting figures detailing the costs of these consultants from the CEO.

Council’s asset management process has been ongoing for the past eight months. It is a Federal Government requirement, fed through State Government, that all councils must have an asset plan in place by 31 December this year.

Mr Ferguson said, “Initially it was to be done by December 2011, but they moved it back.”

Mr Ferguson said this asset management plan would identify all council’s assets and assess their condition, allowing them to decide what work will need to be done to maintain those assets. He said that part of that process will determine a level of service, which will in turn determine the levels of staff council needs.

“It’s no small task,” Mr Ferguson said.

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