A TOTAL of 270 Oxford City Council staff members have been paid not to work through the government's furlough scheme.

A decision published on the city council's website earlier this month showed that 20 members of council staff were initially placed on leave in April through the coronavirus job retention scheme.

The decision added that more staff could be placed on furlough leave as the pandemic continued.

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On Wednesday, the city council's chief executive Gordon Mitchell told councillors that a total of 270 members of staff were now furloughed.

Mr Mitchell added that the 'severe financial crisis' caused by the pandemic had contributed to the decision.

Oxford Mail:

Chief executive Gordon Mitchell.

The city council boss said there had initially been 'quite a lot of uncertainty about whether local authorities could apply' for the furlough scheme when it was first announced in March.

But he added: "I’m very clear the guidance does not exclude local authorities although the political narrative has consistently come back to suggest that local authorities shouldn’t really be making use of it.

"But in the light of the very severe financial crisis we are going to be facing this seems entirely consistent with that use."

The council has been very public about the financial hardship it faces as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier this month, it wrote to the government to declare it would be an extra £12 million out of pocket in this financial year.

It also predicted it would lose another £12 million over the next four years.

READ AGAIN about the £24 million loss here

The decision to start furloughing staff was made by Mr Mitchell alone while councillors were unable to meet due to the lockdown.

The council had temporarily changed its constitution to allow Mr Mitchell to make the decision without a vote by elected members.

The council's meeting on May 20 was the first full meeting have held virtually, and its constitution has reverted back to an earlier version where councillors need to approve certain key decisions.

Mr Mitchell added that all staff on furlough would have their wages topped up to the full amount they would usually earn.

The government scheme pays 80 per cent of wages up to £2,500 a month.

The council will pay the extra 20 per cent out of its budget.

This also applies to members of staff employed by the council's wholly-owned company Oxford Direct Services who have been placed on furlough leave.

Oxford Mail:

Oxford City Council's first full virtual meeting.

Mr Mitchell said the council had previously campaigned on paying a living wage, and add 'reaching an agreement with unions' to pay the extra 20 per cent of wages was 'in tune' with the authority's ethical stance in the past.

The chief executive also said the number of staff on furlough would change and would likely be reduced as some council services returned to normal.

The council employs a total of 1,300 staff members according to its own records.

According to Mr Mitchell one in four members of this workforce are currently facing disruption because of the coronavirus.

As well as those who have been furloughed, some are on sick leave, others are self isolating with symptoms of Covid 19, and others still have been redeployed into new roles because of the pandemic.

At the meeting, the council boss also warned there would 'certainly be no quick return to normal'.

He added: "Some of the specific arrangements about social distancing are going to affect our services and our city centre and individuals for many months, possibly years."

A spokesman for the ministry of housing, communities and local government said: “Council workers are the unsung heroes as we tackle this pandemic and by providing councils with over £3.2 billion in the fairest way possible we’re working with them to tackle the immediate pressures they have told us they’re facing.

“Oxford City Council is receiving £1.62m of this to deal with the pressures of coronavirus, while its core spending power rose by £290,000 this financial year even before additional emergency funding was announced.

“The Government will continue to work closely with councils as the pandemic progresses."

This story has been updated with comment from the ministry of housing, communities and local government 26/05/20