North Yorkshire County Council has revealed it claimed £3.9million of government cash to furlough staff during the coronavirus pandemic.
The authority – which is the largest employer in the county – said a total of 1,288 jobs were supported by the scheme, which came to an end last Thursday after 18 months.
According to government guidance, public sector organisations were not expected to furlough their workforce and staff whose work was no longer possible had to be considered for redeployment.
However, where councils had arms-length organisations which rely on income and not public money, then furloughing staff was allowed.
A county council spokesperson said:
“The county council has claimed furlough payments for staff within its traded services
“Traded services staff are those who work within commercial companies created by the county council, sometimes with partners.
“The furloughed posts would normally be funded by income to these companies, but this stopped, or was greatly reduced during the pandemic.
“These traded services areas include such things as elements of waste management, building design consultancy, commercial property development, and high-speed broadband provision.”
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Furlough payments were claimed for school catering staff during lockdown closures, as well as staff in the county council’s outdoor learning service which it said could not operate due to covid restrictions.
The spokesperson added:
“We furloughed 1,288 posts since its introduction, affecting 1,132 individual employees. This figure includes many who rolled on and off furlough and others furloughed only for a short time.
“This has to be seen in the context of a package of government support to deal with the financial impacts of covid across the council.
“It has, therefore, helped in the council’s response to support business, communities, residents and staff.”
No furlough claims by Harrogate Borough Council
Meanwhile, Harrogate Borough Council did not claim any money from the furlough scheme.
Cllr Pat Marsh, leader of the Liberal Democrat group on the authority, this week made calls for the scheme to be extended in order to avoid what she fears will be a “tidal wave of job losses” at businesses.
“Although many may find work in recovering sectors such as hospitality and travel, there is also likely to be a rise in unemployment due to new redundancies as businesses fail without the support of furlough.”
The furlough scheme saw the government pay towards the wages of employees who could not work, or whose employers could no longer afford to pay them, up to a monthly limit of £2,500.
At first it paid 80% of their usual wage, but in August and September it paid 60%, with employers paying 20%.
In total, the scheme cost around £70billion – and Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones said now was the right time for it to end.
“The furlough scheme is estimated to have cost £70 billion and this will need repaying. But the human and financial cost of letting industries, businesses and jobs go to the wall during lockdown would have been catastrophic.
“It is going to be a bumpy road ahead even so but without the actions that were taken it is difficult to imagine what the situation would have been.”