Calderdale Council cash to be used to stall exodus of waste lorry drivers going to better paid HGV jobs

Council cash will be used to help boost waste and recycling service drivers’ pay to stall an exodus to better-paying HGV jobs, if budget proposals are approved.

By John Greenwood - Local Democracy Reporter
Tuesday, 18th January 2022, 3:17 pm
Updated Tuesday, 18th January 2022, 3:18 pm

Budget recommendations made by Calderdale Council’s Cabinet, and now out for consultation, include allocating £150,000 next year to increase pay packages contractor Suez can offer its drivers.

Leader of the council, Coun Tim Swift (Lab, Town) said the situation with losing drivers to better paying HGV jobs had become “acute” and action has to be taken to ensure the service’s stability.

“We need 32 drivers and at one point there were eight vacancies, a quarter of drivers, and two others had given their notice.

Sign up to our daily Halifax Courier Today newsletter

Waste and recycling collections in Calderdale

“We think it’s the right thing to do to make sure we can deliver the service residents expect,” he said.

When the council looked at the situation with Suez payments for drivers were very low compared to neighbouring authorities – reflected in the contract price – and increases which require

Suez to also put some money into the pot are the result of a fair negotiation, said Coun Swift.

Recommendations for the 2022-23 budget will have to be approved by the full council at its Budget Meeting on February 28.

Calderdale Council leader Tim Swift

The “standstill” budget proposals would see the council spending around £177 million and Council Tax rise by 3.99 per cent – two per cent which the Government allows authorities to raise without recourse to a local referendum and an extra one per cent they can levy specifically for social care.

That would see Council Tax payers in Calderdale’s Band A properties, which are the most numerous homes in the borough, paying around £43 extra for the council services element of the annual bill from April, and around £50 in Band D.

Coun Swift said the council’s priority continued to be protecting and supporting residents, communities and businesses as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

This has meant taking steps “needed to deliver a balanced and robust budget” and at the same time finding small scope for investment in some areas, he said.

Growth proposals include £80,000 to help drive forward projects for North Halifax, and £292,000 for a number of projects, including servicing some prudential borrowing.

Projects include include the proposed new Halifax Leisure Centre and, subject to a successful grant application, a new eco-friendly and more efficient heating system at Todmorden Leisure Centre.

Planning has been a troubled directorate of late with complaints about long delays and Cabinet propose recruiting 6.25 (full or part time) staff costing £300,000 to deal with the problems, plus a one-off £311,000 for IT software which will help planning deal with issues more efficiently.

Council Deputy Leader Coun Jane Scullion (Lab, Luddenden Foot) said planning had seen “a perfect storm” over the last seven years in terms of staff leaving but not replaced and existing staff also closely involved in work on the Local Plan process.

“That combination of strands have come together to give us a crisis – we have identified that, and taken a series of steps to address and reduce the waiting time,” she said.

Around £260,000 is needed to overhaul the council’s cyber security, and three additional staff would be recruited (at £120,000) to man the IT service desk – more services now being delivered digitally, partly driven by the pandemic.

To balance growth items, service cuts or raised charges include a seven per cent rise in the cost of bereavement services, which will save around £90,000 but Cabinet members stressed help to pay was available and there were a range of exemptions, for example regarding services for children.

Maximum care charges will also be increased by £50 per week by 2024-25, saving £22,000 next year.

About £292,000 will be found by reconfiguring some services and losing or redeploying staff.

A good year’s performance last year of the Pension Fund means a cautious £900,000 saving without affecting council pensioners in any respect has resulted, said Cabinet member for Resources, Coun Silvia Dacre (Lab, Todmorden).

But this is against a backdrop where 70 per cent of the council’s budget is now taken up by adults’, all-age and children’s social care packages which the council has legally to provide as well as wishing to help Calderdale’s most vulnerable citizens – this means any savings the council has to make can only come from non-statutory services in the remaining 30 per cent.

Coun Swift said choices were difficult to make but the idea in this era that there are significant efficiency savings which could be made “is pretty far fetched.”

Councils cannot predict exactly how much money will be needed for care packages as these can arise during the year – and the cost of some specialised looked-after children packages, were recognised across the country as “extortionate”, said Coun Dacre.

Buffers for these and other variables including potentially large rises in utility bills, for example, have been built into the budget proposals by the council’s Head of Finance, Nigel Broadbent.

The Labour Cabinet members said Calderdale had now experienced a £120 million reduction in Government grant since 2010, criticised being forced to bid against other councils for grants and expressed frustration that only a one-year budget settlement had been given by Government, making planning for the next few years difficult and making assumptions that may have to be changed, saying most Government departments were given three-year settlements.

* Support your Halifax Courier by becoming a digital subscriber. You will see 70 per cent fewer ads on stories, meaning faster load times and an overall enhanced user experience. Click here to subscribe