ELECTED representatives have aired concerns as Clacks Council agreed a revised Drugs and Alcohol Policy, including testing, on a pilot basis.

The policy, approved last week, sought to develop a supportive workplace to assist staff with health and wellbeing issues while setting out clear expectations and consequences for failing to meet them.

Such a policy was first drafted in 2017 to address health and safety concerns and relied on what is known as field impairment testing, such as walking in a straight line to test balance and similar.

The only provider for training in the UK has gone out of business, documents for the February 2 meeting said, and as such, field impairment testing could not be introduced.

Whilst testing for alcohol and drugs has not been common place at Scottish local authorities over the years, council papers explained that the likes of Aberdeen City Council, Dumfries and Galloway as well as several more are taking this approach.

A revised policy which included random testing was considered in 2021 but significant changes were made following meetings with trade unions.

Random testing was changed to “with cause testing” and fingerprint and breathalyser testing was considered, as opposed to blood and urine samples, to make the process less intrusive.

Council papers read: “Despite these changes the overall trade unions remain highly concerned about the introduction of testing and oppose its introduction."

According to documents, it is argued that testing would reaffirm the council's commitment to ensuring health and safety is a priority while reducing the liability on the local authority should an accident occur.

It was also highlighted that while the chief executive has overall responsibility, there is case law which hints that elected members – as the “controlling mind” of the council – may face prosecution for health and safety failings.

Several councillors raised concerns over the potential effectiveness and necessity of the policy.

The chief executive told the chamber: “As an employer we have a duty to our staff, and to the public, and we need to manage the health and safety risks accordingly.”

Raising her concerns, Cllr Janine Rennie said: “I'm really concerned that there are aspects of the policy that we would be approving – one of the biggest issues with risk is impairment and the section in impairment is extremely weak.

“To me, it wouldn't identify if somebody was impaired through the use of drugs or alcohol.”

She added that fingerprint testing, which analyses sweat left behind in the grooves of a person's fingerprints to determine if someone has used drugs, only works for “five” substances.

It is understood this type of testing can detect amphetamines, cannabis, cocaine and opiates but reagents to detect other drugs are being developed by companies.

Cllr Rennie was also concerned over the management training that would be in place.

Others also raised concerns, including Cllr Holden, who highlighted staff cannot be forced to take a test if asked.

“It's a waste of money, isn't it?” he questioned officers.

In response, he was told there is evidence from councils that implemented testing that even without carrying one out, there is an aspect of deterrence.

“Even if it's only one person that stops taking drugs or alcohol, as a result of this policy being put in place, that's potentially one accident that has been prevented,” an officer responded.

According to documents tabled on the day, 135 people in Clacks were referred for specialist alcohol and drug support between July and September in 2022.

If replicated in the employee workforce, that could potentially mean 20 employees are facing similar issues every quarter.

The cost of testing would be £5,000 in the first year with ongoing costs of £400 per 25 people tested.

Council papers added: “This should be considered against the potential cost of even one employee using drugs and being involved in an accident which as a result could lead to costs against the council in the millions."

Ultimately, policy papers were amended by council leader Ellen Forson to approve it on a pilot basis over 15 months with a review in a year or sooner.

There was a 10-7 split over both the amendment and policy, which were passed.

Cllr Graham Lindsay explained the pilot will allow evidence to be gathered “to shape a stronger policy” while “doing nothing means we have nothing in a year's time”.

Following the meeting, council leader Ellen Forson said: "Despite ongoing discussions since 2017, Council management and Trade Unions had been unable to reach an agreement over this policy.

“The amendment to introduce the policy as a pilot was an attempt on my part to move the matter forward and allow the policy to be implemented with a review period to allow any areas of concern to be reviewed and addressed.”