An old-fashioned, mudslinging political battle has erupted about changes in the top administrative structure and pay at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

Western Isles Labour Party accuses the local SNP of “shameless hypocrisy” in claiming that they stand “shoulder to shoulder” with front-line workers providing council services.

Earlier the Western Isles SNP Group at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar “expressed disappointment” at “the decision by Comhairle leader Councillor Roddie Mackay and his Chairs' Group to give senior officials a pay rise.”

But CnES officials say the changes are likely to save at least £42,000 a year, rather than costing more.

Labour pointed out that the overall Council cuts were a result of Scottish Government decisions, a Government run by the SNP itself.

Prospective Labour candidate Alison MacCorquodale said: “The savage cuts which Western Isles communities are enduring are entirely due to the 17 per cent cut in funding inflicted on the Comhairle by the Scottish Government since 2014.

“This is the worst treatment of any local authority in Scotland and there has been not one cheep of protest from the local SNP councillors, MSP or MP.

“This is a very strange way of standing shoulder to shoulder with anyone other than their own political party.

“The inescapable fact is that, for local councils, the SNP at Holyrood have made the situation far, far worse than it needed to be.

Ms MacCorquodale said: “We have seen over 300 jobs go in recent years with many more under threat.

“Behind the smokescreen of criticising the reorganisation of senior staff and the restructuring of the Comhairle, the SNP are shedding crocodile tears for the front-line staff. They need to look in the mirror to see who is actually to blame”.

But CnES SNP Group leader, Councillor Gordon Murray (Stornoway North) attacked the Council’s own decisions: “This is so insensitive and at a time when staff and services are under threat, to reward just those on high salaries exhibits a callousness that is beyond belief.

“If we were to reward anyone, it should be those at the frontline in delivering services who face increasing challenges and pressures. With high levels of fuel poverty and foodbanks in use in the islands, Councillor Mackay and his chairs need to revisit this decision.

 “This administration will produce Dickensian levels of inequality if it does not change its direction of travel.

“To those who work at the frontline faced with increasing pressures and challenges, we in the SNP group highly value you and will stand shoulder to shoulder with you in solidarity alongside your union representatives.”

All this arose from a Special Meeting of the Human Resources (HR) Sub Committee held on Friday 5 October 2018 to consider further details of implementation of the Review of Organisational Structures as agreed by Policy and Resources Committee and the Comhairle on 20 June, and by the HR Sub Committee on 7 August, 2018. 

The Sub Committee had previously approved at its meeting of 7 August:

  • the Organisational Structure;
  • the Job Descriptions and Person Specifications for the Directors and Heads of Service; and
  • the recruitment process.

As part of this process, an exectuive pay model was, for reasons of transparency, developed independently of officers of the Comhairle to meet equal pay obligations.

“The pay model was based on job evaluation outcomes and salary benchmarking with the six Councils closest in size to the Comhairle, and calculated on the basis of the job descriptions and person specifications agreed by the Sub Committee in August.”

CnES says “There is a minimum saving of around £42,000 from implementation of this structure, compared to the Comhairle’s current structure and pay model. 

“A Consultation is currently underway on the future structure of the Chief Executive’s Service and, if its preferred option is ultimately agreed, it is likely that there would be a further saving thereby rendering the new structure even more financially beneficial.”

CnES also points out that “the process, which also included three Seminars for all elected members, has been remarkably consensual.

The proposals for implementation of the Review received the unanimous backing of Human Resources Sub Committee.

“The result of this Review has been that, within a comparatively short time, the Comhairle has agreed a structure which:

  • Replaces the current structure which was agreed by all to be in need of change;
  • Ensures that the Comhairle is organisationally fit for purpose for the challenges and opportunities which lie ahead;
  • Is financially realistic and which has produced a saving of at least £42,000;
  • Results in no compulsory redundancies.