Scotland strikes: Nicola Sturgeon warns of cuts elsewhere as council workers offered new pay deal

Nicola Sturgeon has warned of budget cuts elsewhere after a new pay deal for council workers saw strike action in schools and further industrial action by bin workers called off.

Trade union leaders in Unison, Unite and the GMB said they were suspending action and would recommend their members accept the “credible” new offer.

It came after the First Minister personally intervened in the dispute, with her role described as a “primary reason for the breakthrough”. She previously said all options for more funding had been “exhausted”.

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Ms Sturgeon said: “What we’ve said all along is true, there is no unallocated pot of money.

Rubbish has piled up in streets across Scotland during the bin strikes
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“So what we were able to do [on Thursday], because we know how important it is not have strike disruption and to give workers the best deal possible, will require us making decisions to take money from elsewhere in the budget.

“These will not be easy decisions and the Deputy First Minister [John Swinney] will set out detail of that to Parliament in the coming days.”

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The Scottish Government is due to set out its legislative programme for the coming parliamentary year on Tuesday.

Ms Sturgeon said: “As we try our best within a fixed, finite budget that is not rising with the rate of inflation, as we try our best to help people who need it most, we’re going to have to take really tough decisions.

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“So there is no bottomless pit of money. We’re going to have to make choices about how we target our resources to help people who need it most.”

She urged the UK Government to “do its job” by freezing energy bills, providing more funding for struggling people and giving “devolved governments more wherewithal within our budgets to protect public services and public sector workers”.

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Council pay talks took place at St Andrew's House in Edinburgh late into Thursday night and resumed again on Friday morning.

School staff, including cleaners, caterers, janitors and pupil support assistants, had been due to walk out over three days next week, potentially forcing the closure of hundreds of schools and nurseries across Scotland.

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Bin strikes began in Edinburgh over the busy festival period and then spread to other councils as the row escalated.

However, the prospect of future strikes in schools is still on the table after Scotland’s largest teaching union opened a ballot on industrial action.

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A 5 per cent pay offer from local authority body Cosla was rejected by the Educational Institute of Scotland’s (EIS) executive committee last week.

It said teachers were “increasingly angry” their pay was not keeping pace with the soaring cost of living.

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Cosla’s new offer to council workers – excluding teachers, who have separate negotiations – will see a rise of £2,000 for those earning up to £20,500 and £1,925 for those earning between £20,500 and £39,000.

Meanwhile, those earning between £39,000 and £60,000 will get a 5 per cent pay boost, with a maximum increase of £3,000 for those on more than £60,000.

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Unison said the package was worth £600 million.

Johanna Baxter, its head of local government, said: “It has taken eight months and the industrial might of Unison members in schools and early years and waste and recycling workers to drag £600m out of the Scottish Government and Cosla and into the pockets of hard-working people.

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"Cosla originally offered 2 per cent, then 3.5 per cent, then 5 per cent – we now have £600m on the table, which is a 7.5 per cent increase to the total pay bill and 87 per cent of our council workers will receive fully consolidated increases between 5 per cent and 10 per cent.”

Wendy Dunsmore, Unite’s lead negotiator for local government, said: “After the latest round of intensive talks, a new credible offer has finally been put on the table by Cosla. Unite wants to acknowledge the First Minister’s direct involvement as a primary reason for the breakthrough.

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"The offer on the table is fully consolidated and as such there will be more cash in the pot going forward for local government workers. It provides a degree of security for the lowest paid, with a flat rate offer of £2,000, which is an uplift worth around 10 to 11 per cent.

“We now have a credible offer which our local government representatives can recommend to the membership for acceptance.”

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GMB Scotland senior organiser for public services Keir Greenaway said it had been “very clear that more must be done for the lowest paid in local government”.

He said: “It’s not a perfect offer, but it is the view of GMB Scotland’s local government committee that it’s worthy of members consultation and their acceptance, but ultimately our members whose campaigning and strike actions have improved these terms will have the final say.

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“In the meantime, we have agreed to suspend all planned strike action so this consultation process can take place and our GMB organisers and workplace reps will be visiting as many workplaces as possible to engage our members on this.

“Most importantly, we want to pay tribute to our members. Strike action is not easy, it requires sacrifice and solidarity to deliver outcomes that make work better, and they have fought long and hard for an improved offer to help confront this cost-of-living crisis.”

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Councillor Katie Hagmann, Cosla’s resources spokeswoman, said: “Firstly I would like to thank all our trade union colleagues for the constructive discussions.

“The revised offer made shows that Scotland’s council leaders have listened to the concerns of our workforce and have responded positively.

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“Council leaders have said consistently throughout these negotiations that we very much value and are grateful to the local government workforce.

“We have sent letters to our union colleagues following today’s meeting and hope that this enables strike action to be suspended and allows our workforce to get back to doing what they do best, delivering high quality essential services for the people within our communities right across Scotland.”

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Conservative MSP Craig Hoy said: “While people across Scotland are breathing a sigh of relief that these strikes are off, they could and should have been stopped a lot sooner.

Nicola Sturgeon was missing in action for weeks. While she was schmoozing around the Edinburgh Fringe with celebrity chums – rather than intervening in a dispute her Government was responsible for – litter piled up on the streets outside.

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“This row stemmed from years of systematic underfunding of local authorities by the SNP Government, which left Scotland’s councils unable to meet the pay demands of workers grappling with the rising cost of living.”

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