£3m saved by Scottish councils taking advantage of UK Government furlough scheme

Just four Scottish councils saved millions in wages by furloughing workers during the pandemic, it can be revealed.
More workers were furloughed by Edinburgh City Council than any other local authority.More workers were furloughed by Edinburgh City Council than any other local authority.
More workers were furloughed by Edinburgh City Council than any other local authority.

Edinburgh City Council, Fife Council, West Dunbartonshire Council and North Lanarkshire Council confirmed they furloughed directly employed staff, while 26 councils said they did not furlough a single employee.

Falkirk and Dundee councils failed to respond to Freedom of Information requests.

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In total, at least £2.7 million has been saved by councils through the use of the job retention scheme, with Edinburgh saving £400,000, Fife around £1m, and North Lanarkshire £1.28m.

However, most councils chose not to use the furlough scheme, with both Glasgow and Aberdeen saying that they viewed their staff as not being eligible.

Edinburgh, Fife and North Lanarkshire said the majority of the workers furloughed were involved in income-generating activities such as caterers, tutors, those working cultural venues and parking attendants.

In total, more than 1,000 directly employed council staff were furloughed, with Edinburgh furloughing the most with 369 workers having their wages paid by the UK Government.

Fife, North Lanarkshire and West Dunbartonshire furloughed 251, 278 and 184 members of staff respectively.

Edinburgh said the reason for their high numbers was due to the council having more income-generating services and also employing more people overall, making their raw numbers appear large, but small in percentage terms.

None of the councils said definitively whether they would also take advantage of the Job Support Scheme announced by UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak, but both Fife and North Lanarkshire said it was “unlikely”, while Edinburgh said no final decision had been made.

Cllr Rob Munn, finance and resources convener at Edinburgh City Council, said they used the scheme to “reduce the level of lost income” and help protect jobs without impacting on other services.

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He said: “Those members of staff who are furloughed have seen no reduction to their monthly income and we anticipate we’ll receive additional funding of more than £400,000 through the furlough scheme, at a time when Council finances are under significant pressure.

Cllr Joan Griffiths, Edinburgh’s finance and resources vice-convener, said: “We’re fairly unique as a local authority in that we have a number of income streams which help us to fund and provide essential services to the City.

"Certain council employees are in roles which are funded by the income they help us to generate, like some staff at the Usher Hall, in outdoor education centres or within our corporate catering team.

"They can’t carry out their usual duties just now due to our adherence to public health guidance and keeping a number of buildings closed. That means that, with the support of trade unions, the furlough scheme makes complete sense for us to access.”

A spokesman for Fife Council said: “Having considered the terms of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, Fife Council liaised with the trade unions to make a claim under the scheme for a few specific groups of staff to recoup some of the council’s costs from this period.

"The basis for this decision were the areas where staffing costs are normally covered by external income that the service generates.

"Where only a percentage of the income for the service was generated by external income, we only claimed for that percentage of employees.”

West Dunbartonshire did not respond to a request for comment.

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