Essex County Council has denied that there is a link between wedding bookings having to be postponed for months and a restructuring of registrars’ terms of employment.
Essex County Council (ECC), which supplies registrars to non-religious venues, says high demand created by postponed ceremonies due to COVID-19, has meant it has had to stop taking wedding bookings until October at the earliest.
The council stresses that no weddings will be cancelled and all those already booked will be honoured.
The decision coincides with proposals for registrars to become permanent employees of ECC on annualised hours contracts. The move has been branded as a money saving ploy by one individual closer to negotiations, who added concerns that ECC has been forced to take the decision because they “have no idea how many trained registrars they will still employ in May 2021”.
The individual, who wished to remain anonymous, added: “Even if ECC U-turn on this restructure, realising the timing is unworkable and postpone it until the autumn, the good-will of Essex wedding registrars has already been decimated.”
ECC says it cannot say how much it is expecting to save from the restructure, as well as whether staff be able to work as registrars for another authority and what will happen to those staff who decline a permanent contract – whether they will ever be offered work with ECC.
The authority says there is no link between the operational decision about bookings being on hold and the current consultation.
A council spokesperson said: “The proposals detailed are for the sessional ceremony officers to become permanent employees of ECC on annualised hours contracts. We know many of our ceremony officers want this, especially after a year of uncertainty.
“It is important to note that the consultation is still active, no decisions have been made. The proposal within the consultation is exactly that, a proposal and is not set in stone. The very purpose of a consultation is to gain feedback from our sessional ceremony officers who might be affected and use this feedback to inform a decision.
“As with any contract review, should the proposal within the consultation be agreed, then the sessional ceremony officers will be given the option to accept or decline the permanent contract offered to them.
“The current consultation will not affect weddings already booked. Couples that have existing bookings should not be concerned; all existing bookings will go ahead as planned.”
“As we anticipate a higher than average level of demand, as restrictions are lifted in line with the Government roadmap out of lockdown, we are also increasing our capacity with the recruitment of additional temporary ceremony officers.
“We will ensure as many couples as possible can get married this year. Couples are now able to book again for ceremonies taking place from October 2021.
“In addition, we also now have limited last minute spaces available for couples to get married in June 2021, and would urge anyone who may be interested to contact the registration service as soon as possible.
“We will also offer more summer bookings as soon as they become available.”
The council had already defended the decision which has been criticised by wedding venues – especially given the damage of lockdown to wedding businesses since early last year.
An ECC spokesperson added: “The COVID-19 pandemic has created a massive pent-up demand for wedding services. There are the weddings which were postponed last year and the normal number of weddings which take place every year. Roadmap restrictions are still in place for weddings until at least June 21 and possibly beyond.
“Demand for weddings this summer is therefore much higher than usual. The numbers of weddings already booked to take place this summer in Essex already exceed 2019 levels and are 15 per cent higher than the average annual numbers for the last five years (2020 excluded).
“When taking bookings we have to ensure that we are able to service them, so we have had to place a cap on the number of weddings taking place over the summer months – albeit that cap is 15 per cent higher than previous years.
“No weddings have been cancelled, there is simply a pause on booking new ones. Other local authorities have taken a similar approach for the same reasons.
“Once we have recruited more staff, we will endeavour to take on new bookings where possible. ECC has been working with venues directly throughout this process and the Government General Register Office.
“ECC has to consider the published Government Roadmap of restrictions and we must all be mindful that the COVID-19 situation and restrictions could change at short notice. At this moment restrictions are still in place and we would also ask people to understand that the safety and wellbeing of ECC staff, as well as the public, is important.
“ECC needs to be sensible. It would be reckless to book in too many extra weddings and not being able to staff them.”