THE UK's largest union is calling on Somerset County Council staff to reject a controversial unpaid leave proposal.

This week cash-strapped Somerset County Council announced it would be asking staff take two days of compulsory unpaid leave over the Christmas holidays in 2018 and 2019.

The plan would reportedly save £1m for the council over the two years.

However the union Unite is recommending its members to reject the plan when it is put to the workforce in a ballot next month.

Unite acting regional secretary for the south west Steve Preddy said: “This crisis is entirely of this Tory-controlled council’s own making.

"If it had taken the advice of its financial advisors and raised council tax in line with inflation in recent years, the budget would now be running a surplus.

“Yet again, hardworking and dedicated council employees, who keep vital services running 24/7, 365 days a year, are being asked to bear the brunt of this council’s managerial incompetence.

“The actions of this authority are a wake-up call for the people of Somerset that local government as they know it is under severe threat – and the unpaid leave plan is the latest manifestation of this unpleasant direction of travel.”   

The council has said that essential personnel like gritter drivers, social workers and press officers would still work during the two-day unpaid leave period, but will not be exempt from the proposal – taking two days’ unpaid leave later.

Somerset County Council chief executive Patrick Flaherty reiterated that the council was not in danger of going down the route of Northamptonshire County Council, which recently issued a second Section 114 notice, effectively freezing all unnecessary spending.

He said: “Northamptonshire’s failure was they did not understand their position, they didn’t put plans in place. They did too little, too late.

“We are not in the same place because we understand our position, are already taking action and the size of the challenge isn’t of the same scale.

“But to avoid that situation we absolutely need to act and to act immediately – this must be at the forefront of everyone’s mind.”