EASTER Ross workers who lost their jobs after Highland Council ended a major recycling contract in controversial circumstances are being offered compensation payments that could cost the local authority up to £150,000.
The council confirmed this week that the 31 employees of Munro Construction who lost their jobs when a £1.5 million contract was awarded to a French firm have been offered compensation payments as a result. It’s understood 27 former employees will be paid in full this weekend.
However, Green Highland MSP John Finnie yesterday branded the affair "a shambles" after giving news of the settlement a guarded welcome.
He’s going to refer the matter to watchdog Audit Scotland. He said: "It’s unfortunate that it took me raising the issue at First Minister’s Questions and posing a series of questions to Highland Council to get any movement on this issue.
"I understand the workers will require to sign ‘gagging’ clauses to receive 13 weeks’ payment.
"They won’t be allowed to comment on the council or its policies, along with anyone in any way connected with the local authority or indeed the French company, Suez, that were given the contract.
"However, I am under no such obligation and will expect Highland Council to detail how we ended up at this point and the extent to which they are funding this deal.
"Highland Council lacks political leadership; indeed the leader, Councillor Margaret Davidson, indicated she was heading off on holiday rather than meeting the workers.
"So, while pleased for the workers – none of whom now have a job – let’s not forget that, as a result of this shambles, Highland’s recycled waste will now be transported to Newcastle. It’s about time that Highland Council’s administration got a grip and assessed the widest implications of their decision-making.
"For instance, I’m sure they didn’t factor paying thousand of pounds to 31 workers as a result of this botched episode. In addition to asking Highland Council for an explanation, I will be raising this case with Audit Scotland."
Chief executive of Highland Council, Steve Barron said: "The council is continuing to do all it can to support employees who lost their jobs following the change in contract for the processing of recycled waste.
"All 31 employees affected have been offered compensation and the council understands that 27 of these individuals will be paid in full before this weekend. Efforts will continue to contact the remaining four employees.
"Employees were provided with independent legal advice and PACE information, which offers guidance for those facing redundancy. I understand that a number of those affected have already found alternative employment."
Using a Scotland Excel procurement framework, the council said it placed its contract for recycling waste by direct award with Suez, with effect from November 19 "at much lower cost than alternatives and therefore providing significantly better value for money for Highland taxpayers".
Asked how much was involved in the payout plans, a Highland Council spokesperson said: "It would be inappropriate to comment further at this time because there will be ongoing confidential discussions with the remaining former employees of Munros."