North Yorkshire County Council claims more than £2.6million in furlough cash during pandemic

North Yorkshire County Council has revealed it has claimed more than £2.6million of government cash to furlough its staff during the coronavirus pandemic.

By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporting Service
Tuesday, 26th January 2021, 1:49 pm
Updated Tuesday, 26th January 2021, 1:52 pm

The authority – which is the largest employer in the county – currently has 460 employees fully or partly furloughed on the government scheme which ministers are reportedly considering extending beyond the current end date of 30 April.

At the peak of absences, North Yorkshire County Council had furloughed nearly 700 workers in traded services where income which funded the posts had stopped or been greatly reduced due to pandemic restrictions.

Government guidance says public sector organisations are not expected to furlough their workforce and that staff whose work is no longer possible should be considered for redeployment.

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In total, North Yorkshire County Council employs more than 7,200 staff, excluding school workers.

However, where local authorities have arms-length organisations which rely on income and not public money then furloughing staff is allowed.

Up to the end of November 2020, North Yorkshire County Council said it had claimed £2.6million for furloughed posts in areas including waste management, building design consultancy, commercial property development and high-speed broadband provision.

This was to cover 80 per cent of wage costs while services continued to pay all staff the remaining 20 per cent.

Gary Fielding, the county council’s corporate director of strategic resources, said the furloughing of staff was only part of the picture of how the authority’s workforce and finances had been impacted by Covid-19.

He said: “This claim for furlough payments should be seen in the context of the county council’s overall additional expenditure as a result of the pandemic. This currently stands at £82m during 2020/21.

“We continue to face significant challenges and predict a shortfall of funding of £75m over the next three years.”

In total, North Yorkshire County Council employs more than 7,200 staff, excluding school workers, who have been praised by union officials at Unison North Yorkshire for their work to continue delivering key services throughout the pandemic.

Branch secretary Wendy Nichols also said the union had been closely involved in the furlough process and that talks were continuing over the next steps for staff.

“We have a close relationship with the council and have been involved in every step of the furlough process,” she said.

“Those who have stayed in work or been redeployed into different areas have been absolutely fantastic and I don’t think people realise how big a part they’ve played in the pandemic.

“We have had library staff put onto frontline contact centres, cleaners and domestic officers moved into care homes, and some staff working almost non-stop, seven days a week. I really can’t praise them enough.”

Mrs Nichols added: “We are continuing in talks with the council over what will happen for staff on furlough when the scheme ends. Once we come out of the pandemic, we hope it will be business as usual for all our staff and services.”