Highland Council’s top brass are being warned they could be more likely than others to face the axe to help balance the authority’s books.
The council has eight weeks to plug a £40million budget gap for 2016-17 following a reduction in Scottish Government grant.
Chief executive Steve Barron has invited staff to step forward for voluntary redundancy. A public consultation is in full swing to help pinpoint spending cuts.
Hundreds of the council’s 10,000 workforce are expected to go as savings are enforced across the board.
There is a growing, cross-party clamour among councillors for senior officials to take a hit in order to help protect as many “frontline” staff as possible.
Resources chairman Bill Fernie confirmed yesterday (TUES) that top jobs will feature.
“We are targeting management at various levels but we’ll also wait to see what comes of the voluntary redundancy request,” he said.
Opposition leader Maxine Smith revealed on Monday that her SNP group had formally snubbed any role in the process because of policy differences. She echoed the sentiment, however, that some highly paid staff should go.
“We want a protocol to protect frontline services and the lower paid,” she said. “Higher paid staff are more likely to bounce back from redundancy.”
Independent councillor Jim Crawford urged administration colleagues to “start at the top and work downwards because we need to retain the people at the coalface rather than those on £50,000-plus salaries.”
The council had already identified £10million of savings before receiving Finance Secretary John Swinney’s bombshell of a 4.3% reduction in Highland’s £500million budget.
Responding to SNP group criticism and conscious of the time pressure, budget taskforce member Matthew Reiss insisted the process had continued over Christmas.
“It’s been a working holiday with telephone and email contact between the team. (Council leader) Margaret Davidson was in touch yesterday (from an overseas holiday) with a detailed email on the budget indicating possible ways ahead,” he said.
Mr Fernie told the Press and Journal that, after inviting others to participate, “no opposition group has so far come forward with any proposals that we could consider.”
He has emailed councillor Smith to emphasise the administration’s priority of protecting frontline services.
He told her: “There will be no indiscriminate changes to services and they will be thought through in relation to the major savings we need to make.”
He added that the SNP group had found difficulty working with anyone, having lost their grip on power when, due to policy differences, the Liberal Democrats abandoned their coalition administration in May.