Cllr Chapman proposed bringing item 7 forward, which was agreed by the Committee. Cllr Chapman introduced the item, which were the proposed changes to Dacorum Borough Council’s (DBC) employee Terms & Conditions (T&C’s). He invited the Trade Union (TU) Representatives to submit their case. N Cooke said that as set out in the letter to the Chief Executive (CEO), the TU considered that DBC were in breach of their own procedures, and that because of this, the changes were null and void.
N Cooke said that the TU had been engaged in negotiations with the Senior Management Team (SMT) for some time. He said there had been three/four meetings, which had been very pragmatic and the TU understood the rationalisation, and had accepted the majority of the changes. However, he said that they had consistently taken issue with the proposed changes to the redundancy rate. N Cooke said that throughout the process, they had tried to resolve this matter without going into dispute (e.g., mediation with ACAS, Joint Secretaries, or Local Employers Association). N Cooke said that at the last meeting, which was meant to be about the new Sickness Absence policy, they were told that DBC were going ahead with the changes. He said that at this point, he immediately wrote to the CEO, and went into dispute with the Council. He said that at this point, the status quo should prevail – and that at this time, this proposal should have been referred to the JNC. This was not done. Instead, he said, he received a letter from the CEO saying that this matter had been ratified. N Cooke said he believed that DBC had missed one of their own steps and that the decision should have been taken to the JNC, as elected members for consideration and resolution. N Cooke asked if the CEO had the right to disregard the TU’s dispute letter and go straight to Council, without bringing it to the JNC.
M Brookes offered a comment to the Chairman on a point of procedure; he said that a letter addressing the points raised by N Cooke had already been sent by Sally Marshall, CEO. He said that it was not for the committee to look at the procedure that was followed, but instead whether the management’s decision was appropriate; specifically the changes to the redundancy rate. N Cooke disagreed with this submission and said that the Committee had a right to decide whether the Council had followed the correct procedure. He asked what was the point of the JNC, if such a significant matter was not considered. Although he accepted that the decision of the Committee would not necessarily be binding, it could not simply be arbitrarily missed by the CEO.
Cllr Taylor asked M Brookes if N Cooke’s understanding of the Committee was not quite correct; he said that although the Committee would discuss items that were brought before it, such as this matter, however it was Cabinet that would make the final decision. M Brookes confirmed this as accurate and said that the Committee effectively functioned as a consulting body where views were put forward and taken into account. M Brookes said that he thought the point that N Cooke was making was regard to the timing that the matter was brought to the JNC, however, he said that the CEO had agreed for this item to be presented to the Committee to allow for discussion.
N Cooke expressed concern that they were discussing a matter already ratified; he said that this effectively made this discussion redundant. M Brookes disagreed; he said that the management team had set out their case in the letter from the CEO. They were happy to explain how they had complied with the procedures; Cllr Chapman asked the TU Reps if they would like an explanation, which they confirmed.
R Smyth referred to the letter sent by the CEO, which noted a number of consultations about this matter. During this time, R Smyth said that at no point did the TU’s request that it be referred to the JNC. R Smyth said that on 17 September, Cabinet made the recommendation to Council; this was due to be presented at the Council Committee on 27 September. R Smyth said the TU wrote to DBC on 26 September, but he said that because of the consultation meetings that had already taken place, which included M Rawdon, himself and James Deane as Corporate Director, they considered that this met the criteria of parts one and two of the sub procedure, or the JNC procedure, that N Cooke was referring to. He re-iterated that the JNC only had the power to refer matters to Cabinet and Council. R Smyth said that both Cabinet and Council were fully aware of the TU’s position on this matter, and that the decision was taken in light of this full knowledge. He said that DBC considered that the process had been followed, and that the spirit of what the TU would want from the JNC had been complied with; he re-iterated that this was contained in the CEO’s letter addressed to N Cooke and Unison dated 6 October 2017.
M Nix wanted to add to this discussion that the changes to the redundancy rate had created an atmosphere of fear among members of workforce, particularly among older members. He also said that the TU Representatives were just given these changes with no explanation. He said there were real concerns that redundancies were imminent.
Cllr Chapman asked the Officers to reply. M Rawdon began by saying that he did not consider it fair to say the TU’s had not been consulted on the T&C’s - he said that numerous meetings had been held with Unison and Unite (he referred to staff briefings, Officers Groups to the whole of the workforce, four drop-in sessions, as well as information being sent to workforce about the consultations). M Rawdon said that these sessions had been well attended and disputed M Nix’s comments about fear – he said that this was not the impression he had. He thought that the consultation process had been very meaningful. M Rawdon said that a number of things had been agreed, and he would not want this situation to affect the relationship going forward.
In response, N Cooke said that he accepted the consultation had taken place. However, his point was that when the TU went into formal dispute, the Council should have followed a separate disputes procedure that was distinct process to the consultations. He said having read the constitution of the JNC, he believed that this matter should have immediately been referred to it for discussion of the dispute – it should not have been sent to the Council for ratification.
M Rawdon said at the meeting of 8 September, both the Sickness Absence policy and the changes to the T&C’s were discussed – both items were noted in advance within the invitation/agenda. He said that prior to the meeting, a number of consultations had taken place, and they had confirmed that the discussions had been fed back to the CEO and SMT, however at this particular meeting, they had confirmed that a final decision had been made by the Council in respect of the changes to the redundancy rate. M Rawdon said that at this point the TU has said if this was the Council’s final decision, they questioned the point of bringing in a third party. M Rawdon said that DBC were then not contacted by the TU until 26 September (the day before full Council) when a letter was received saying they were in formal dispute. N Cooke disputed this, saying that he wrote the following day. M Rawdon did not agree, and re-iterated that the letter was dated 26 September.
Cllr Taylor disputed N Cooke’s comments about the outcome being predetermined; he emphasised that Councillors did not attend meetings with a pre-determined view. Following N Cooke’s comment that the decision had already been ratified, M Brookes confirmed that the CEO had made a commitment that if the JNC disagreed with the change, it would be referred back to Cabinet and Council for further consideration. N Cooke thanked M Brookes for this update; he added that they had not been advised of this.
Cllr Taylor also highlighted that the first letter from the TU contained within the agenda pack was dated 26 September; N Cooke said that he had written before this.
Cllr C Wyatt-Lowe asked N Cooke why the TU had not brought this issue to the JNC at any point in the process. N Cooke said that he took partial responsibility for not raising it to the Committee beforehand. He said that he became aware of the Constitution of the JNC after he was informed that the decision to change the redundancy rate had been ratified. He said that on reading it, he considered that the Council should have referred it when the TU were in dispute.
Both Cllr Chapman and Cllr C Wyatt-Lowe said that they believed the procedure had ultimately been followed, however they both considered it unfortunate that the matter was not raised at the JNC by either DBC or the TU.
M Brookes interjected at this point; he said it was not for the Committee to determine if the procedure had been followed; instead they were to consider whether the proposed change to the redundancy rate was correct, as well as a decision from the Committee as to whether it would need to be resubmitted to the Cabinet and Council. M Brookes invited the TU to submit their representations on this point.
N Cooke said that it was important to consider what redundancy was; it was essentially sacking someone for no fault of their own. He said that in that context, the redundancy payment was given to soften the blow. He said that he dealt with most of the Local Authorities in Hertfordshire, and that approximately 60% of them paid an enhanced rate. He said that in comparison to the other proposed changes to the T&C’s, there was no logic behind the proposed changes to the redundancy rate; he said this felt like a race to the bottom. N Cooke said that they had not been advised what savings would be made from this change; only that £3.2m savings needed to be made from the Council’s budget. N Cooke submitted that, overall, a drop from 2.2 to 1.5 in the redundancy rate did not represent significant savings to DBC, but were significant amounts to individuals. He said that the TU had been forced to run a consultation ballot because of this issue, which could result in industrial action. He considered that this would be a failure of all parties, and asked DBC to reconsider this decision.
M Rawdon said approximately six months before, that they had been asked to review staff T&C’s. He said there was a need to make the staff package as attractive as possible, however this also needed to be balanced against a need to make savings of £3.2m. He said they completed extensive research and this indicated that DBC were paying a greater redundancy rate than other Local Authorities in the eastern region – most others were paying a rate of 1.5. M Rawdon accepted that 60% paid an enhanced rate, but he said, 1.5 was still an enhanced rate in comparison to the statutory redundancy rate. He referred to the briefing note, re-iterating the key points contained in the agenda pack. He noted in particular that the rate was above the public sector average of 1.16 weeks per year that had been identified in the 2016 Unison survey. R Smyth re-iterated the need to strike a balance between offering an attractive pay package, and making necessary savings, as well as emphasising that the new redundancy rate was above the statutory rate.
Cllr Taylor took issue with N Cooke’s description of redundancy as “sacking someone for no fault of their own”. He said that it was emotive language and not technically correct – he said the job was made redundant, not the person. N Cooke disagreed with this and said that it was a sacking in law.
Cllr C Wyatt-Lowe asked what the statutory redundancy rate was; R Smyth said it was a scale dependant on age:
22 years or less – 0.5 week pay per year worked;
22 – 41 years – 1 week pay per year worked;
Over 41 years – 1.5 week pay per year worked, but with a cap on weekly amount of £475.
M Rawdon added that in the last 6/7 years DBC had made very few individuals redundant – he said that approximately 2 or 3 a year. He said that they did not take redundancy lightly, and that in the short or mid-term planning, there were no large scale redundancy plans that he was aware of.
D Lloyd said that the general belief among staff that this was being done because redundancies were on the horizon. A Stunell said that DBC’s policy was to redeploy rather than redundancy; this was backed-up by the figures over the years. R Smyth said that he wanted to re-iterate that this change was part of an overall programme of change.
N Cooke said that M Rawdon’s comments had essentially made his point; if so few redundancies were made, no significant savings would be made – therefore, he asked what the financial incentive of this change was. He said redundancies were only a one-off payment; they would not have any impact on the £3.2m savings that needed to be made, and that over 20 years, it would be next to nothing. R Smyth said that they needed to be fair to the employees still in service, and re-iterated it was more than the statutory rate.
M Nix said that a significant portion of the workforce at Cupid’s Green was an ageing workforce, over 41years old; therefore according to R Smyth’s figures, they were only receiving the statutory redundancy package. He added that the workforce believed that they were at particular risk of redundancy. Cllr C Wyatt-Lowe said that although she was concerned to hear that staff were worried, she believed that these fears were unfounded given that the local area had such high employment, employers often struggled to find staff. M Nix said that the point he was making was that staff were genuinely concerned.
Cllr Chapman asked if the TU had been giving full details of the package to the employees; N Cooke confirmed they had. Cllr Chapman also said, as per the briefing note, that Unison had effectively accepted a rate of 1.16 for other Public Sector members – he asked why they would then challenge a better rate of 1.5. N Cooke said that he had no idea how that figure had been arrived at, in view of the statutory figure for the over 40’s. M Rawdon said that he understood that this was calculated by Unison, and that it made DBC compatible with other Local Authorities. N Cooke said it was not compatible with the rest of Hertfordshire, and that East Herts Council’s redundancy rate was 2.6. M Rawdon questioned this as he said he did not have this information to hand.
At the invitation of the Chairman, N Cooke summarised that the TU’s did not understand why this reduction was being done, or what it would achieve. He said he was concerned that this could result in the balloting of industrial action. Following the same invitation, R Smyth said that it was not a race to the bottom, however when reviewing the T&C’s there were some elements that did not strike the right balance between current and future staff. Because of this, the T&C’s had been revised with this in mind, and with the view to attracting and retaining staff. He re-iterated that it was above the statutory redundancy rate. M Nix asked if given this rate was the statutory rate for the over 41’s (a group he said was most at risk of being made redundant), if there could be any compromise with this particular group.
Cllr Taylor said that having listened to both parties, he found himself on the fence. He said that he had completed some very brief calculations, in respect of an employee paid £500pw and had completed 20 years’ service. He said that this person would see their redundancy package reduce from £22k to £15 with this change in rate; this was a loss of £7k. He noted the officer’s comments that only one or two employees had been made redundant, as well as the assurances that there were no plans for large scale redundancies. He described these savings as a “drop in the ocean” to DBC, but a significant amount of money to the employee.
In view of this, Cllr Taylor said that he wondered if a compromise could be made by meeting the redundancy rate in the middle at 1.85;
Cllr Taylor formally proposed a reduction in the redundancy rate from 2.2 to 1.85. This was seconded by Cllr Whitman. This was not agreed by the remainder of the Committee.
Following this, M Brookes said that the Committee were required to consider the substantive issue; whether the SMT decision to reduce the redundancy rate from 2.2 to 1.5 was appropriate. He said that TU members were required to vote (although highlighted that N Cooke, as presenter of the issue, could not). M Brookes said that assuming both TU members voted against this, it was then for the Committee to reach a majority decision. At the invitation of the Chairman, the Committee voted that the decision was appropriate; this was by a majority of 4 Councillors, with Cllr Taylor abstaining from the vote due to his proposal.
Councillor Chapman thanked M Brookes, M Rawdon and R Smyth for attending the meeting, and confirmed that they were not required to attend the rest of the meeting.