AS West Dunbartonshire Council look to furlough its employees, a trade union has said the scheme cannot be a “waiting room for redundancies”.

UNISON announced that the local authority applied to the UK Government's Job Retention Scheme to fund staff members last week.

Johanna Baxter, UNISON Scotland head of local government, said: "The fact that Scottish councils are having to apply for funding from the Westminster furlough scheme is a damning indictment of the Scottish Government's under-funding of local government and demonstrates how cash-strapped they are.

“The Scottish Government need to address the shortfall in local government finance as a matter of urgency to protect jobs and services going forward. UNISON is absolutely clear that furlough cannot be a waiting room for redundancies.

“Council services are needed more than ever, and council staff have been heroic during Covid-19 pandemic caring for our most vulnerable people, looking after the children of key workers, housing rough sleepers and collecting our refuse. Investment in public services is the lesson of this pandemic."

Dumbarton’s MSP, Jackie Baillie, reiterated the trade union’s comments.

The deputy leader of Scottish Labour said: “Council workers across the country have played a vital role in supporting vulnerable individuals and keeping local services running during this crisis. Indeed, many of them have been redeployed into other areas to help.

“I am surprised that council employees have been furloughed as I understood that the scheme was not open to public sector workers. That said, this is perhaps an indication of just how underfunded our councils are if they have to consider furloughing their staff to save money.

“Clearly the more than a decade of underfunding of council services by the Scottish Government is now coming home to roost.”

A council spokeswoman told the Reporter that the decision to furlough staff is part of measures being taken to aide recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

They said: “West Dunbartonshire Council is currently consulting with its trade union colleagues in exploring the use of the UK Government’s Job Retention Scheme as part of a range of measures being taken to aide recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We welcome the support the Job Retention Scheme has given to employers and their employees, and the scheme’s extension to October. However, as the UK Government moves to phase out the schemes, it is important there is continuing recognition that public health guidance is devolved, and so progress in exiting lockdown may be different in each nation.

“We have been working closely with COSLA and local governments since the beginning of the pandemic and have committed over £300 million of additional funding for Covid-19 measures, on top of the local government finance settlement of £11.4 billion from this year’s budget,

“The payments of the local government consequentials worth £155 million, the distribution of which was proposed and agreed by COSLA, are being made to councils in June alongside the weekly general revenue grant payments. The first two instalments have now been received. In addition, following agreement with COSLA, we are also front loading the normal weekly grant payments by £300 million to ease local authorities cash flow problems.

“The pre Covid-19 2020-21 settlement, provided an increase (cash) in local government day to day spending for local revenue services of £589.4 million (5.8 per cent).”