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Neath Port Talbot Council challenges Unison after £21 million budget shortfall

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: January 04, 2013

By Paul Lewis

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COUNCIL chiefs have thrown down the gauntlet after a union raised the threat of industrial action.

Neath Port Talbot Council is facing a £21 million budget shortfall over the next five years.

It says it wants to bridge the gap through a combination of service cuts, council tax increases, wage cuts and increased fees and charges.

But Unison claimed that, despite the authority's view that everyone must share the pain, the pay cuts would only affect those already on the lowest salaries.

It has called on Neath Port Talbot to increase council tax bills to avoid the need for any salary cuts.

Unison is now circulating a petition describing the proposals as unfair, not equitable and unnecessary.

It calls on councillors to review the proposals, and has already warned of a potential ballot on industrial action.

But council chief executive Steve Phillips has now issued a statement challenging some of the union's assertions.

"There is scope for further negotiation but a £21 million budget gap over the next five years remains a fact," he said.

"We have always maintained that the status quo is simply unsustainable, faced with cuts of this magnitude and, put starkly, the alternative is job losses or outsourcing."

Mr Phillips said the impact of the proposals was greater on certain categories of staff, but that was inevitable beyond a certain point, given the diversity of jobs and terms and conditions.

Mr Phillips said council tax levels were for councillors to agree.

But, he added, he would argue strongly it would be unfair to put a disproportionate burden on council taxpayers, particularly the 15,000 or so households having to pay a proportion of their council tax for the first time from April 1.

"The trade unions are fully entitled to represent the interests of their members," said Mr Phillips.

"But the time is coming when they need to identify real alternatives rather than limit themselves to the rhetoric of simply opposing all the council's proposals.

"This climate of austerity is not of the council's making. But we have a responsibility to come up with proposals that will sustain services."

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