Saving by the mile roadblocked

THE Comhairle have U-turned on a proposal to save £100,000 a year by reducing employee mileage rate payments following strong opposition from island teachers and union members.

Currently the local authority pays out around £927,000 per year in mileage expenses to employees through three different schemes: Members receiving 40p per mile,teaching staff 53.65p for the first 10k miles and 25p thereafter, and Single Status staff receiving 45p for the first 10k miles and 25p thereafter.

And although the Comhairle had budgeted for a reduction in rates to 40p per mile for all employees, plans fell foul of the authority’s workforce, supporting unions, and the UK Treasury who – after the council had set its budget – raised the Inland Revenue rate to 45p per mile in recognition of rising living costs.

At council meetings last month however, it was agreed by Members to approve a level rate of 45p (for the first 10,000 miles per year and 25p thereafter) to run across the board for Comhairle employees as from last Friday, April 1.

Commenting, Stornoway Cllr Keith Dodson said: “I think that this is good news all round and to all our employees it comes across that the council seems to be fair to all.”

Council Leader Angus Campbell reminded Members that: “In determining the rate, it’s standard to all employees – the rates for some employees therefore will come down.”

And Uig Cllr Norman Macdonald added: “People also have to be aware that if it comes down at a national level, it will come down for everyone – people have to accept that.”

The initial proposals of 40p per mile had been met with anger by trade unions, a letter from UNISON in response to the Chief Executive and Director of Finance and Corporate Resources’ Mileage Report stating: “Although the Comhairle may believe that it had set a legal budget – the fact that the reduction in mileage had not been the subject of consultation or negotiation with employees or their representatives – the proper formal procedures were not followed.”

Expanding, it detailed that mileage allowance forms part of employees’ ‘Terms and Conditions’ – and as such cannot be subject to arbitrary change without consultation.

The letter highlighted: “It would be totally unacceptable for the Comhairle to be paying a lower rate to its employees than the Treasury has set for the Inland Revenue whilst they support campaigns for lower fuel prices in remote and rural areas.

“It is unreasonable to ask employees to accept a lower mileage rate in order to save £100k when the Comhairle clearly recognises that fuel costs are likely to rise steadily over the coming year.”

Island teachers – who will now see the largest reduction in mileage rates – were also unhappy about the original plans, a response from the Mileage Report from the EIS saying: “We understand the current financial climate puts considerable pressure on the Comhairle to find savings wherever possible, but feel this should not result in employees being put in the position of subsidising the local authority in order to carry out its duties.

“It seems unreasonable for the Comhairle to expect employees to provide their vehicle in order to carry out their duties on behalf of the Comhairle at a financial cost to themselves.”

A spokesperson for the local authority commented this week: “The Comhairle is grateful to the Trade Unions for their joint working on this and though there are major challenges ahead, the Comhairle looks forward to working together with the Unions on implementing the HR Strategy.”