It would be “irresponsible” of Lancashire County Council to support a union call for a £10 per hour minimum wage for staff – without knowing where the money to fund it would come from.
That was the message from the authority’s Conservative leader, Geoff Driver, after Labour opposition councillors called on the County Hall to back the pay claim – and press the government to cover the cost.
As part of a nationwide campaign, the Unite, UNISON and GMB unions are also demanding a 10 percent increase for all council and school workers whose wages already exceed £10 per hour.
Presenting a motion to a meeting of the full council which supported the unions’ demands, Labour group leader Azhar Ali described local authority workers as “superheroes”.
“The local government workforce has endured years of pay restraint with the majority of pay points losing 22 percent of their value since 2009/10.
“If we really value our staff who work so hard, it’s about time we stand up for them and shout from the rooftops, asking government to give them a fair deal,” County Cllr Ali said.
County Cllr Driver said that he agreed with the sentiment behind the motion, but put forward an amendment, which was later carried, asking the government to consider whether it could afford the wage hike.
“It is important that we recognise the hard work of our staff for providing services in such an excellent way through what, in our case, has probably been the worst situation the county council had faced. Our staff are superheroes and we should record our thanks.
“However, I think it would be irresponsible simply to support the pay award, even in the unlikely circumstance of the government saying [they] would…increase our grant to cover it. This bill would would have a massive effect on the government’s resources if they funded it or, more likely, if they approved it and expected individual local authorities to fund it,” County Cllr Driver said.
Local authority workers were affected by the government-imposed public sector pay freeze between 2011 and 2013 for all staff earning over £21,000 – and a subsequent pay cap limiting annual increases to one percent until 2018/19. The latter measure is estimated to have saved the exchequer £5bn over the past four years alone.
As of this year, wage increases of up to 3.5 percent have been approved, but most public sector workers were thought to be in line for two percent increases when the policy change was announced last year – still below the rate of inflation.
“Our staff are the ones who fill the potholes, look after our elderly and provide school meals for our children and other essential services for our communities,” Labour county councillor Julie Gibson said.
“They’ve seen their pay eroded and yet their workload has doubled, leading to a longer hours culture, a loss of moral and staff turnover.”
But Conservative member Andrew Snowden said irony was “spewing out” of the opposition benches.
“If they had won [the local elections] in 2017, there would be no council to work for – the staff that they so value would have had no funds to pay their wages.
“We support the staff and value them by running a sustainable council that can pay their wages,” County Cllr Snowden said.