by EWAN LAMB
The headcount of people on Scottish Borders Council's payroll fell by a staggering 700 in the space of three months during 2009 then rose by an equally dramatic 300 full-time equivalents in a single quarter in 2010.
Those are just two of the seismic shifts in the staffing levels which have come to light after radical adjustments and amendments to Borders local government employment data during lengthy consultations between SBC and the Scottish Government.
The revised information - the council had neglected to include casual workers and relief staff in their quarterly returns ever since national record keeping began more than a decade ago - was published on the SNP Government's website earlier this week.
The accuracy of the council's information was called into question earlier this year after three different totals for headcount (total number of full and part time workers) and so-called full time equivalents (FTE) were issued in the space of a few weeks. Headcount totals given out to Freedom of Information requesters and contained in reports to council varied from 5,700 to 6,421.
SBC was contacted for an explanation after the matter was drawn to the attention of the Government's statistics division in Edinburgh. It was then discovered that casual and relief staff had been left out of the calculations.
The council has now submitted "corrected" figures for both categories of statistics right back to the first quarter of 2009. And the local authority is now believed to be assessing what information could be made available for the period prior to that.
However, there would seem to be a number of bizarre statistics, even after the completion of the rejigged staffing levels. For example, the inclusion of casual staff from the first quarter of 2009 meant the headcount went up from 5,700 in the last quarter of 2008 to 6,100 to take account of the "missing" employees. That seems entirely logical.
But during the same period FTEs actually fell from 4,700 to 4,600. It means that while the headcount went up by more than 7% the FTE total fell by 2.1%. A real puzzler that for mathematicians to ponder over.
It is difficult to comprehend how the payroll total was slashed by 700 (6,200 to 5,500) between the second and third quarters of 2009, representing a drop of more than 11% in the headcount. In the same three months the number of FTEs went down by 500 (4,700 to 4,200) or 10.6%.
But then SBC appear to have recruited 300 extra FTEs between the fourth quarter of 2009 and the first three months of 2010. In the same period the headcount only increased by 100.
One observer of local government affairs asked: "How did the finance department manage to budget and allow for such incredulous fluctuations in the SBC wage bill?"
In an explanatory note accompanying the Government's latest official quarterly publication covering public sector employment, readers are told: "Prior to quarter one of 2009 SBC head counted and FTE figures do not include casual/relief employees who were paid in the reference period. This means that these figures under-estimate the headcount and FTE for Scottish Borders Council."
There was another major reduction in staffing levels during 2015. The headcount fell from 5,600 to 4,800 in the second quarter of the year after hundreds of care staff were transferred to SB Cares, an arms length company.
It would certainly seem from the masses of tables on the Scottish Government's website that the yo-yoing Borders figures may require further scrutiny.