Rebel councillors will demand controversial staff pay cuts are abandoned in crunch budget talks at Stoke-on-Trent City Council.
Elected members at the city council rejected budget proposals on Thursday after several City Independents councillors voted against their Conservative coalition partners – mainly due to proposals to slash workers’ term and conditions to save £934,000.
The City Independents will now meet with city director Jon Rouse on Monday as senior officers attempt to end the budget deadlock.
Councillors will have another go at passing a budget at a meeting on Friday, March 6, just days before the legal deadline of March 11.
City Independents leader, and deputy council leader, Ann James, was one of six members of her group to vote against the budget, which included £9.2 million of cuts. She says the T&Cs proposal has to be removed from the budget, with an alternative saving found.
Council workers currently receive a 20 per cent unsocial hours payment for working evenings, and time-and-a-half for working weekends. Trade unions say removing these enhancements would leave some workers thousands of pounds a year worse off.
Mrs James said: “The concerns we have are with the terms and conditions, that’s what this is all about. The officers worked hard on this budget, but the problem has been the changes to terms and conditions. We said we had concerns over it right from the start.
“We would like to see this item removed from the budget. We know that means savings will have to be found somewhere else, and that could mean more redundancies, we appreciate that. But I don’t really understand why there’s never enough funding, I don’t know where it all goes.
“We’re going to have a meeting with the city director on Monday, and hopefully they’ll come up with alternative proposals which we can support.”
Councillors voted 22 to 19 against the budget on Thursday, with the City Independents group split – six voting against and five voting for, with one abstention. The budget could pass on Friday if just two of the City Independents switch sides.
The City Independents agreed to renew their coalition partnership with the Conservatives after last May’s local elections left the council with no group in overall control. Since then the Tories, as the larger group, have been the senior partners, with Abi Brown serving as council leader.
Mrs James had not yet spoken to Mrs Brown following Thursday’s meeting, but she said there would now have to be discussions between the City Independents and Conservatives over the future of the coalition.
Mrs Brown said councillors now had to come together to find a way forward.
She said: “I am very disappointed that agreement wasn’t reached on the budget proposals yesterday. This position is not without precedent in other parts of the country and other authorities have adjourned council meetings and gone on to agree revised budget proposals. However, this is not where we want to be.
“Let me be clear. We are duty bound to set a legal budget by 11 March. If we don’t, the consequences for the authority will be severe.
“Clearly it is incumbent on all councillors to come together now and work towards agreeing budget proposals for the meeting on 6 March. I will be doing everything I can between now and then to ensure this happens, and I urge other councillors to consider the wider implications of this and do the same.”
It is not yet known what alternative budget proposals could come forward next Friday.
City Independents deputy leader Randy Conteh, who voted for the budget, said during Thursday’s meeting one alternative would be 31 more redundancies – the budget proposals already included cutting the equivalent of 78 full-time jobs.
Ahead of the budget meeting, city director Jon Rouse, the council’s top officer, wrote to employees to explain the review of terms and conditions.
He said while the council had been in ‘formal discussion’ over the review, the unions had said ‘they did not want to negotiate’ and had offered no alternative proposals.
But Mr Rouse said staff members had made a number of suggestions for saving money during the budget consultation. These included introducing parking charges, cutting pay for all staff and reducing annual leave entitlement.
In his email, Mr Rouse said: “We have shared these ideas with our trade union colleagues and remain keen to talk to them about workable alternative proposals.”
But Tony Jones, regional organiser for Unison, insisted the unions had offered alternative proposals, but these had been rejected by the council.
He said: “We congratulate the Labour and City Independent councillors who voted down the budget. It was a victory for common sense.
“We are willing to negotiate, but we have our red lines – namely protecting the pay of our members. We’re happy to talk to anyone who will be reasonable, and discuss the ways in which the council is wasting money. There are lots of ways the council can save money.”
But Mr Jones said a planned meeting between the unions and the council scheduled for March 4 had been postponed following the budget vote.
The city council is looking to make £9.2 million of budget savings in 2020/21.
Here is how each city councillor voted on the budget:
Lesley Adams – City Independents – FOR
Asman Ali – Conservative – FOR
Jane Ashworth – Labour – AGAINST
Melanie Baddeley – City Independents – FOR
Jackie Barnes – City Independents – FOR
Colin Beardmore – Conservative – FOR
Lorraine Beardmore – Conservative – FOR
Shaun Bennett – City Independents – ABSTAIN
Heather Blurton – Conservative – FOR
Jean Bowers – City Independents – AGAINST
Sabrina Bowers – City Independents – AGAINST
Janine Bridges – City Independents – FOR
Abi Brown – Conservative – FOR
Candi Chetwynd – Labour – AGAINST
Maxine Clark – Conservative – FOR
Randy Conteh – City Independents – FOR
Lilian Dodd – City Independents – AGAINST
Desiree Elliott – Labour – AGAINST
Dave Evans – Conservative – FOR
Stephen Funnell – Labour – AGAINST
Cheryl Gerrard – Independent – AGAINST
Faisal Hussain – Conservative – FOR
Ross Irving – Conservative – FOR
Ann James – City Independents – AGAINST
Dan Jellyman – Conservative – FOR
Gurmeet Singh Kallar – Labour – AGAINST
Chandra Kanneganti – Conservative – FOR
Rachel Kelsall – Conservative – FOR
Sadaqat Maqsoom – Conservative – FOR
Shaun Pender – Labour – AGAINST
Mohammed Pervez – Labour – AGAINST
Sheila Pitt – Labour – AGAINST
Andy Platt – Labour – AGAINST
Joanne Powell-Beckett – City Independents – AGAINST
Paul Shotton – Labour – AGAINST
Ally Simcock – Labour – AGAINST
James Smith – Conservative – FOR
Lee Wanger – City Independents – AGAINST
Alastair Watson – Labour – AGAINST
Amjid Wazir – Labour – AGAINST
David Williams – Labour – AGAINST
Jo Woolner – Labour – AGAINST
*Councillors Carl Edwards (Conservative) and Majid Khan (Labour) were both absent from the meeting.