POLL: NCC staff blowout

NEWCASTLE City Council employs 230 more staff than it did two years ago, according to statistics in the city’s annual report.

The council  said comparative figures from 2010 were ‘‘an anomaly’’, coming at a time when the organisation had imposed a recruitment freeze during former general manager Lindy Hyam’s sustainability review.

But the figures, which confirm the council now has more staff than before that controversial review, will fuel growing arguments about the need to trim the number of bureaucrats in the round house.

The most recent headcount figures, supplied to the Newcastle Herald showed the council had 1429 employees last month.

That figure is well ahead of its larger neighbour, Lake Macquarie, which employs 1176 staff in total.

Headcount figures include casual, temporary, contract, apprentice or trainee staff as well as permanents.

Lord mayor Jeff McCloy said the council had not been ‘‘living within our means’’.

‘‘We have to keep the council to an operating surplus,’’ Cr McCloy said.

‘‘You either increase your income or you decrease your  costs. We need to look at what services we are providing, should we be providing those services or not.’’

Ms Hyam was heavily criticised because her sustainability review did not drastically reduce the number of full-time equivalent staff, despite redundancies.

But the ‘‘headcount’’ figures tell a different story.

In July 2010, just months before Ms Hyam left Newcastle council, the city employed 1199 people.

A council spokeswoman said yesterday those 2010 figures were an anomaly ‘‘influenced by a number of acute factors’’.

One of those  was the sustainability review and associated recruitment freeze.

‘‘Vacancies could not be filled unless deemed essential,’’ the spokeswoman said. 

‘‘The voluntary turnover rate increased significantly due to uncertainty regarding the restructure.’’

Redundancies were also blamed for deflating the 2010 figures.

‘‘The organisation had just made the 25 people redundant and hadn’t filled the new positions that had been created, hence the decrease in permanent staff at that time,’’  the spokeswoman said.

She said an audit removed 55 casual staff from the council’s database  before the 2010 figures and new casuals were hired subsequently.

‘‘With the exception of 2010, staff headcount since 2008 has remained relatively stable,’’ the spokeswoman said.

Recent staffing levels are higher than in 2008 and 2009, when the council employed 1374 and 1370 staff respectively.

Since taking office in September, Cr McCloy has spoken about the need to reduce staff numbers.

General manager Phil Pearce also instigated his own staffing freeze after the city’s projected deficit for the current financial year blew out to $18.1million.

Plans to cut 10per cent of council costs will almost certainly include staff cuts when tabled in March.

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