STAFF at Essex County Council will have to pay more to plug a £674million pensions blackhole.

The deficit was revealed in County Hall’s annual statement of accounts and will see employees having to make up most of the gap.

The figure is down from a shortfall of £800million revealed last year, mainly because councils can now link future pensionincreases to the consumer prices index, rather than the retail prices index, which knocked hundreds of millions of pounds off the deficit.

Margaret Lee, executive director for finance, said in her statement the “deficit will be made good by increased contributions over the remaining working life of employees”.

Across the county, councils are all struggling to plug the pensions gap.

Southend Council is £126million short, while Rochford Council has to find £18million.

Colchester Council has a shortfall of almost £60million, Braintree Council needs to find another £40million and Tendring Council has a pension gap of £37.85million.

Meanwhile, staff at County Hall are also facing changes to terms and conditions as the council tries to make £300million of savings.

The council has been negotiating changes with Unison, the union representing council employees, on pay, sickness benefit, annual leave and working hours.

It is understood a compromise has been reached with no changes for the lower paid and only small changes for those on higher pay.

On the pay and conditions negotiations, Babs Whitfield, union branch secretary for Essex, said: “Essex county branch of Unison has been in negotiations with the employer, who has been seeking to make savings by proposing changes to terms and conditions.

“This would enable the employer to reduce the number of potential redundancies which may have been necessary to make the necessary savings.

“Unison entered the discussions on this basis and, after protracted negotiations, we are at a stage now where we have achieved the maximum we can at the negotiating table.

“The ballot has been going well and looks like the deal will be accepted by July 25.

“The only changes will be to mileage, working at home and notice periods for senior ranks.”

Ms Whitfield has told members: “If you reject the changes, the only way we can take this any further would be to enter into a formal dispute with the employer and one of the possible outcomes of this could be strike action.

“The branch is, therefore, recommending acceptance of these proposals as the best that can be achieved.”