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Coronavirus: Furlough talks came as ‘shock’ to council staff

Coronavirus: Furlough talks came as ‘shock’ to council staff

Published by Local Democracy Reporter Jacob Webster at 3:11pm 12th May 2020.

Harrogate Borough Council staff first heard that they could be furloughed during a virtual meeting of councillors.

  • A union official says finding out they could be furloughed came as a "shock" to council staff.
  • It was presented as a possibility during an online council meeting.
  • The council says no decision has been made yet.

Staff at Harrogate Borough Council were not told they could be furloughed before the potential move was discussed at the authority’s first virtual meeting, a union official has said.

David Houlgate, Branch Secretary at Unison Harrogate, said the talks came as a “shock” and “massive worry” to council workers.

It comes after Wallace Sampson, Chief Executive of the council, told the authority’s first live-streamed meeting on May 6 it may have to look to furlough some staff in the future.

The council has now stressed no decision has been made.

A council spokesman said:

“Nothing is on or off the table at this stage.

“We are already assessing how we manage the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The latest forecast of a worst-case scenario indicates a shortfall of approximately £15million because of additional costs and lost income.

“No decision has been made to furlough staff, but, as an organisation we will have to look at all options available and consider them carefully in line with government guidance.”

The council has only received £1.6million in emergency funds from the government to help cope with the crisis.

It has meant senior officers have been told that any spending should only be in “essential” areas.

Mr Sampson told the council meeting it will consider the move to furlough staff “very carefully.”

Unison Branch Secretary David Houlgate said:

“We note that at Harrogate Borough Council’s cabinet meeting, held on Wednesday May 6th, the issue of furloughing council employees was discussed.

“This has only come to our attention through media channels and is quite a shock.

“Clearly, this will be a massive worry for staff, who have worked tirelessly and in some cases voluntarily in delivering vital public services during this pandemic crisis and we are therefore seeking further detail with the utmost urgency.”