UNISON has criticised Darlington Borough Council for what it believes is preferential treatment for senior management over pay and pensions.

Speaking at a cabinet meeting this week, Dawn Taylor, assistant branch secretary of the union's Darlington branch, questioned the economics behind council’s plan to partner with the town’s Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).

The partnership is aimed at achieving a more efficient approach towards health service provision in the borough but Ms Taylor said the council’s projected savings of between £4.9m and £10.8m on an expenditure of £200m was “vague”.

She added: “The only certainty seems to be that two senior managers will get a pay rise of £8,652 per annum, taking their pay to £92.652.

“Also, a director is being allowed to take early retirement in two years time at a cost to the council of £60,000.

“The early release of pension without reduction is possible for any member of staff who is in the Local Government pension scheme, however, our experience is that the council usually refuses such requests.

“We expect the council to act consistently.”

However, council leader Bill Dixon has denied any bias towards senior management positions.

Ms Taylor said the council’s proposal to increase two managers’ wages seemed to “contrast sharply” with its attitude to its StreetScene staff, many of whose jobs are being downgraded leading to wage cuts.

She added: “Why do senior management get big pay rises and bin men pay cuts?”

Conservative group leader, Heather Scott also questioned why the council did not make it clear that StreetScene jobs would be cut after the fortnightly bin collections were introduced.

She said that although scrutiny committee members were made aware of restructuring proposals, they were told that surplus staff would be redeployed rather than lose their jobs or be downgraded.

Council leader Bill Dixon responded: “As far as we were aware, at the time we re-structured StreetScene we knew there would be a need to alter terms and conditions; this inevitably means that some staff would be graded down and some would be graded up.”

Speaking to The Northern Echo today (Wednesday, July 2) Cllr Dixon denied that the council was biased towards protecting executive positions.

He said: “Hundreds of staff have been downgraded and regraded – predominantly downgraded.

“How do people think we make the savings we have to make?

“Local government is largely a people business and any significant saving isn’t going to come from the deployment of a new IT system, it is going to come from reductions in staff, regrettably.”

Cllr Dixon pointed out that the number of senior managers and directors at the authority had dropped and that senior managers had not had a pay rise for about five years.

He added: “They might earn more, but they have a lot more responsibility as well; people are rewarded on the basis of the risk and responsibility that the job carries.”