Senior opposition councillors have raised concerns about lifting a restriction on East Sussex County Council re-hiring of redundant employees.
The matter was discussed at a meeting of the council’s governance committee – made up of the leaders of the council’s three main political groups as well as senior cabinet members – last Friday (September 20).
Under the new policy, the county council will be able to permanently rehire ex-employees, when it was previously limited from doing so.
Concerns were raised by Liberal Democrat group leader David Tutt and Labour group co-leader Godfrey Daniel, however, who argued the change could lead to public criticism.
Cllr Daniel said: “I’m slightly uneasy I suppose because if you make someone redundant then you find they can do a job somewhere else then that should have been identified right at the beginning.
“I’m not sure it sits well with the public to be honest; paying people redundancy payments and then re-employing them again.
“I think it is well meaning, but I am not sure we should do this.”
Cllr Tutt said: “I’m going to be opposing this one I am afraid. When you go through a redundancy process it is about making the decision that role is no longer required.
“Whilst I accept that in the fullness of time they may have other skills we may want to employ, public perception is that there are people leaving, getting good, large cheques and then coming back in to the same organisation having banked that money and it is public money.
“We may not always get what we might consider to be the very best person for the job but there is a very wide pool of talent out there and I don’t think we need to do this.”
However, these views were not shared by council leader Keith Glazier or his fellow Conservative cabinet members Nick Bennett and Rupert Simmons.
Cllr Glazier argued the change would give the council more flexibility in hiring an expert workforce during an uncertain time for local authority finances.
The committee also heard that the policy was likely to be used sparingly and for a small number of “key roles”.
Cllr Glazier said: “We do have a changing workforce and it changes at a rate that we can’t control. Therefore what is appropriate and available today may not be appropriate and available in a year’s time.
“I understand exactly the perception and issues we have, but [what] if we get to a point where we are unable to recruit and there are people out there.”
He added that the decision was being taken “eyes wide open”, with decisions to rehire ex-employees to be monitored by senior officers.
Cllr Simmons, meanwhile, said: “I think the core thing is to ensure this is not abused, where public money is handed out in unnecessary redundancies and then retrospectively corrected.
“The point that our financial horizon is being shortened quite considerably, does affect these decisions and ultimately the principle of the most appropriate person being employed should be retained.
“I think the key is whether it could be monitored to ensure this does not become almost a gratuitous process.”
Following a short discussion, the changes were approved on a vote of three to two, with Cllrs Daniel and Tutt voting against.
The council could already rehire past employees under its previous policies, although its ability to do so subject to restrictions. They included a time-limited contract of one year, as well as restrictions on pay and chief officer approval.
According to officers, the time-limit on the contract had prevented the council from hiring “the best person” for the job in some cases.