Further registrars speak out in wedding consultation row

Council buildings

Essex County Council - Credit: Archant

Wedding registrars have doubled down on their claims that Essex County Council has been forced to postpone weddings due to an ongoing consultation over their terms of employment.

Essex County Council has said that there is no link between the operational decision about bookings being on hold and the current consultation and that it would be incorrect to link the two.

But in response, further registrars have now spoken out over the plans to move officers currently on temporary contracts to permanent positions.

One individual, who wished to remain anonymous, has insisted that ECC is being forced to halt wedding bookings until October due to the uncertainty over how many registrars will be available over the coming months.

The individual said: “The majority of ceremony officers do not welcome these proposals with many feeling undervalued for the service we provide to couples on their very special day.”

ECC has increased the costs of weddings this year, charging £625 per wedding at a licensed venue. The authority takes a £125 non-returnable deposit per booking and currently pays two ceremony officers £50 each to conduct the ceremony. It leaves ECC with £500 profit per wedding.

Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show that in 2017, there were more than 7,000 weddings in Essex.

It is now claimed that with the new proposals, ECC wants to pay ceremony officers the equivalent of £35 to conduct a wedding and then register the wedding details on to the registration system.

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The delay has also impacted weddings venues – Essex has more wedding venues than any other part of the country – and venues could lose potentially tens of thousands in new business over the summer months.

Braxted Park alone had to turn down two weddings in just one week because of the lack of availability of registrars.

ECC has argued that it has had to ensure it can service every booked wedding – and so, has had to place a cap on the number of weddings taking place over the summer months – albeit that cap is 15 percent higher than previous years.

But one registrar, who has been conducting weddings across Essex for several years, said: “Many ceremonies I have spoken to will be losing between £3,000 and £5,000 a  year  – it is quite a lot.

“One ceremony officer I know of would have to do 18 more weddings and still be losing thousands in their pay packet.

“Because there was so much push back they have had to extend the consultation period for another few weeks to give people more time to decide whether to opt in or opt out of the new contract.

“ECC wants us to give availability so they can see how many they have and how many they will need to recruit.”

The decision to postpone weddings has not just cost venues business, but may have forced couples wanting to move on with their lives to put their plans on hold.

The CEO of Braxted Park previously hit out at the delay and the impact it has had on couples many of whom want to get married before having children.

The registrar added: “Lots of registrars have left after the plans were announced. Those who have remained are yet to decide.

“Lots have said we are undecided, which is why ECC has had to push the consultation back. There are a lot of bad feelings. Many feel undervalued and feel rushed into making these decisions.”

She added that ECC has argued that the package is generous because it includes sick pay and annual leave.

But she added: “It is really bad timing to put us in consultation for these annualised hours, which no one wants at the same time knowing they were going to have an influx of weddings.

“They can only take a certain number of bookings but ceremony officers are saying they don’t know what hours they want to opt into.

“They wanted to get an answer by June 1 but they have no idea over the availability so now they are saying the changes won’t be implemented until October.

“They don’t know how many to employ. It’s very messy.”

Another officer said: “Contrary to what ECC has said, the majority of ceremony officers were against the changes and have been very vociferous in their opposition.

“These changes could not have been brought in at a worse time with the backlog of weddings that we will be catching up on for the next two years.

“The contracts that we are being encouraged to sign mean that most people will be giving minimum availability as they do not want to be tied to working solidly throughout the summer.

“This in effect will result in experienced ceremony officers leaving.

“There is no doubt that this is why Essex has stopped taking further bookings as they cannot guarantee staffing them. The venues are understandably furious.

“Having worked for Essex for some years I know this is a battle we will not win.

"But it does make me very angry when we are quoted as being happy about the changes when I know from my engagement with colleagues from across the county that is most definitely not the case.”

An Essex County Council spokesperson said: “There is absolutely no link between the operational decision about bookings being on hold and the recent consultation. It would be incorrect to link the two.

“The proposal detailed was for the Sessional Ceremony Officers to become permanent employees of ECC on annualised hours contracts.

“This is something we know our Sessional Ceremony Officers want, especially after a year of uncertainty.

“They have been fully consulted and the consultation period has now ended.

“They now have the option to accept or decline the permanent annualised hours contract offered to all of them.”