Council to pay staff to ‘volunteer’

Council Tax-payers in Bath and North East Somerset are to pay Council staff to take days off for volunteering, in a move which could cost the authority over £100,000 a year.

The authority’s Liberal Democrat Cabinet last week agreed a scheme which will allow council staff to take up to three days off a year on full pay in order to spend time on voluntary activities.

The Council estimates that take-up of the scheme amongst its 2393 staff, excluding school staff, would initially be no more than 5%, but that it could be as high as 15% once the scheme is established. If 15% of council staff were to take up the opportunity of three days off for volunteering, this would represent over 1,000 staff days, equivalent to £109,000 in staff time. If the council needed to pay overtime in order to cover the member of staff away volunteering, this could further add to the cost of the scheme.

Opposition Conservative councillors have questioned whether this scheme is the right way for the Council to support volunteering at a time of tight budgets and have said the council should be looking for less costly ways to encourage local volunteering.

Cllr Francine Haeberling, B&NES Council Conservative Group Leader, said:

“This scheme appears ill-conceived and we question whether it’s the right way for the Council to support staff volunteering, given that it could cost the Council thousands of pounds and put additional strain on services. It’s good for the Council to encourage volunteering in the community and look for ways to support this. But using Council Tax payers’ money to pay staff to volunteer during work time cannot be the right way to do this, particularly when the authority is making redundancies and cutting back on services.

“The council’s departments simply don’t, or at least shouldn’t, have the slack to let staff take more paid leave. They should instead be looking at other ways to encourage staff to volunteer in their own time, perhaps with an employee recognition or reward scheme.”