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High Life Highland ready to put more staff on furlough


By Scott Maclennan

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HLH chief executive Steve Walsh on a recent visit to High Life Highland's facilities at the Aviemore Community Centre.
HLH chief executive Steve Walsh on a recent visit to High Life Highland's facilities at the Aviemore Community Centre.

The leading leisure provider in the region – High Life Highland – is preparing to put more staff on furlough, though there was no confirmation of how many.

The move was revealed by in a progress report to Highland Council by chief executive Steve Walsh and means that some services will be slower to reopen.

In a major positive development HLH currently projects a deficit of just £550,000 – a sum it can cover from its own financial reserves – which is down from more than £3 million.

The success in reducing that shortfall sparked calls from the GMB Union for any staff placed on furlough to have their pay topped-up, as happened earlier in the pandemic.

The union fears that some members could fall below the National Living Wage and place them under "an unnecessary financial pressure".

It also means that, for the time being at least, jobs are safe though some contractual work dried-up and a new system offered new employees different terms and conditions, including lower pay.

Mr Walsh said: “Our income was massively affected and we lost about £9.5 million this year, which represents about 30 per cent of our overall turnover.

“In mitigation, we have used the Job Retention Scheme extensively, that was very welcome, we have recovered income wherever we can, and of course we have reduced our costs across all of the organisation.

“So at the time of writing this report we had adjusted our reasonable worst case year-end position to about £1.3 million but my updated report is that we are reimplementing the job retention scheme.

“Some of our staff will move to part-time furlough, a few will move to full-time furlough and our services will be adjusted to what I reported in August. Some services will slow down, some will not be opened when expected and will be delayed.

“That implementation of the Job Retention Scheme will bring in about £750,000 to the charity – so to cut a long story short our updated year-end position is a deficit of £550,000, which can be covered by Highlife Highland reserves.”

He warned that next year the charity will “inevitably need one-off financial support” as it comes out of restrictions and will only recover full capacity by early 2022.

GMB regional organiser John McCartney said: “Following the meeting of Highland Council’s education committee, the GMB recognises the improved deficit position of HLH’s budget.

“As we move into the winter months all staff who remain on furlough will continue to see a 20 per cent reduction in wages which brings an unnecessary financial pressure onto our members.

“Additionally, a 20 per cent pay cut over this period will result in some GMB members falling below the National Living Wage.

“We accept that there is an effort to protect jobs but HLH have accepted that there are funding streams open to them that should be used to recognise the efforts and commitment of staff during the pandemic.”



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