CONCERNS have arisen around the reduced pensions of new Cotswold District Council (CDC) staff as officers will be transferred to a local authority-owned company.

From November, 98 per cent of employees at CDC and staff at councils in Cheltenham, Forest of Dean and West Oxfordshire will be transferred to Publica Ltd, a company set up by the four authorities.

Existing employees will have their terms and conditions protected in the transfer, meaning that they will retain their membership of the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS), even after they change jobs within Publica.

But new employees will move away from the public sector pay and benefits package, with reduced pension contributions. The move is expected to create savings for CDC.

Following criticism from the CDC Liberal Democrats, CDC leader Mark Annett (pictured below) defended the council’s decision saying that “no existing staff will lose out as a result of the transfer”.

Speaking of the reduced pensions for new employees, he said that it was “not morally dubious - just a sensible business decision which protects existing staff, and frees us from continuing with what is accepted to be an expensive and unsustainable LGPS”.

He said that Publica would offer “something new with a greater choice from a ‘total rewards’ package.

Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard: Mark Annett, chairman of Cotswold District Council, handles a parcel behind the counter at the new post office

“This package reflects ‘market intelligence’ as to the needs and desires of the ‘modern’ employee, based around a basket of benefits that can be amended over time to reflect changing lifestyles and life events.

“These new entrants will still benefit from a new stakeholder pension, with an employer contribution (albeit at a reduced rate than for current employees).”

Staff had been “fully involved, engaged and consulted on the proposals,” according to Cllr Annett He said: “As with any change, there will inevitably be a degree of nervousness, some staff will have reservations, others will embrace, and others will enthuse.

“The project is not rushed. It has been underway since 2014, and has already resulted in the sharing of services through the 2020 Partnership.

“The move to Publica was endorsed by all partner councils in September/October 2016, since which time officers have been working incredibly hard to deliver councils’ wishes.

“Creating one company with staff from each council will reduce the cost of management and administration and provide the opportunity to share workloads, learn from each other and benefit from shared expertise and knowledge.”

CDC Lib Dem leader Joe Harris (pictured below) said his group have secured a full council meeting to debate its concerns.

He said: “It’s not an understatement to say that this move will be a revolution in the our local council operate, it will effectively mean the council no longer employs any staff directly apart from a handful who are required by law to be employed directly by the council.

Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard:

“While the projected savings over the next few years are welcome it’s one big experiment and must be handled extremely carefully.

“I know that there are cross party concerns about the rapid pace in which this is being implemented as well as a lack of transparency throughout the process, there are still many unanswered questions.

“Staff have approached my team of councillors with their concerns about what it will mean for them, it’s fair to say that contrary to what some of the advocates of this scheme say there is an issue with staff morale as a result of these plans.”

Cllr Patrick Coleman, Lib Dems, said the move was 'morally dubious': “This change is being driven primarily by the prospect of taking money away from the pensions of future employees in local government so that they will have a poorer retirement than current local government pensioners and current council senior officers and other council staff whose pension rights are (rightly) protected.”