CHURCH of Scotland leaders have backed job cuts that will affect Inverclyde congregations.

The Presbytery of Greenock and Paisley have approved a plan to reduce the number of ministers and full-time workers, such as Deacons, from 56 to 41.

It means St Margaret's Church in Greenock - which has not had its own minister for two years - is expected to unite with St Ninian's.

This will create one church in Larkfield, but they have been given the right to call a minister until the union can be created.

Under the new blueprint, the current 'New Charge Development' in Greenock's east end will link or unite with the Mount Kirk in two years.

Port Glasgow will have a union of St Martin's with Hamilton Bardrainney, with the Rev. Archie Speirs of St Martin's as the minister.

The Rev James Munro of Hamilton Bardrainney, who retires early next year, spoke out against the plan at a meeting held this week.

Alexander Smith, his session clerk, was the only person to register his dissent from the final decision to approve the plan.

Inverkip and Skelmorlie and Wemyss Bay have already been linked and are now looking for a minister, and the three west end churches in Greenock have previously united.

The 'Presbytery Plan' was the culmination of two years of intensive consultation by a committee set up to map out how the presbytery would achieve the reduction in numbers set by the General Assembly.

A Presbytery spokesman said: "For many years the Kirk has been drawing on reserves to pay ministers.

"The church agreed in 2010 to reduce the numbers of full-time ministers from around 1,200 to 800 throughout Scotland.

"Every presbytery was then allocated their share of ministers based on population and had to draw up a plan indicating how they would, over a period of 10 years, be able to get down to their number.

"The Presbytery meeting naturally had a very serious atmosphere, but, with minor adjustments to the details, the plan was approved." The Moderator, the Rev Stuart Steell, of Renfrew Trinity Church, paid warm tribute to the convener of the committee, the Rev Andrew MacLean of Port Glasgow, for the hard work he had done.

Mr MacLean had himself been part of the adjustments, having taken on Langbank parish as well as his existing charge of St Andrew's.