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Lancashire County Council considering pay freeze for lowest paid staff

Posted on - 9th November, 2017 - 1:18pm | Author - | Posted in - News, Politics, Preston City Centre
County Hall has voted on whether to back a Combined Authority Pic: Paul Melling
County Hall Pic: Paul Melling

A proposal to abandon the Foundation Living Wage by one of Preston’s biggest employers has been criticised.

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Update: Lancashire County Council has scrapped its proposal during the cabinet meeting on Thursday (9 November)

Lancashire County Council is considering being one of the first councils in the UK to roll back a decision made in 2014 to pay staff a higher living wage – compared to the minimum wage.

From April 2018 – if approved by the county council – the proposal would save £1million.

At the moment the minimum hourly wage the county council pays to thousands of staff is £8.45 per hour.

The county council wants to freeze their pay until potentially 2021 when it says the national minimum wage (currently £7.50 per hour) overtakes it.

Public sector union Unison said: “The County Council intends to save over £1m by ceasing to pay the Foundation Living Wage (FLW). The timing of this couldn’t be more cruel given this week sees the announcement of the annual increase in the Foundation Living Wage.

“This is a shocking and insulting attack on the lowest paid staff who work for the Council. By the Council’s own admission the proposal will adversely impact on employees who are part time and a disproportionate number are female.

“The Council also want to achieve at least £5m by reviewing staff terms and conditions across the County Council and if agreement can’t be achieved they will dismiss and re-engage staff (i.e. impose the new terms and conditions by sacking staff and offering a new contract with the new terms and conditions).

“At a time when hard working staff have suffered years of pay restraint whilst juggling higher workloads with reduced resources, the Council thinks that the right thing to do is punish its workforce. UNISON does not think this is fair and we believe that members do not think it’s fair either.

“Specific details of the cuts to terms and conditions are not known at the moment, however unions will meet with the employer this coming Wednesday and we will seek further detail.”

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The move has also been criticised by Preston City Council’s cabinet member for social justice, inclusion and policy councillor Matthew Brown.

Lancashire County Council is one of the ‘anchor institutions’ in the ‘Preston model’ which has been winning interest and plaudits in the national, and international media, for helping keep spending within the Preston economy from its largest firms and organisations/.

Cllr Brown said: “Lancashire County Council was one of the first anchor institutions to join ourselves and many others in 2013 to ensure what they bought has benefits for both people and local businesses in Preston and Lancashire.

“This collaborative approach has brought great benefits for Lancastrians and is a new economics being applied in other European cities all of differing political persuasions through the EU Procure project.

“They also decided to become accredited as a living wage employer in 2014. This has benefitted thousands of people across Preston and Lancashire.

“I feel the cost of ceasing to pay the real living wage is very little despite the budget challenges faced and it will affect low paid workers who are mostly women. I hope they will look a little deeper at the issues involved and continue to give low paid staff the pay rise they deserve.”

Preston MP Mark Hendrick said: “The previous Labour administration made a commitment to ensure that their workers were paid a decent wage, many of whom are in low paid jobs and many that are women.

“I think this a short sighted measure to make savings at Lancashire County Council and I will be very disappointed if this goes through.

“Going from a Foundation Living wage of £8.45 per hour to a National Living Wage is £7.50 per hour will save the County Council around £1m over the next two financial years, however this change will affect hundreds of low paid workers and will no doubt have serious knock on effects on their families.

“They will experience great hardship due to the real terms cut in their income, which will cause social problems and lead to poverty pay where families have to take care of children and bills which will become more unaffordable.”

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The Conservative-controlled county council says it is introducing the pay freeze to help bridge a funding gap caused by central government cutbacks.

Leader of the county council councillor Geoff Driver said: “We have to look at all possible options as we work to get the council’s finances back on an even keel and, given that it constitutes more than 70 per cent of our budget, that has to include staffing issues.

“The county council faces an unprecedented financial challenge, as we try and close a funding gap of £161m in 2021/22, following a long-term reduction in funding and an increase in demand for our services.

“We are trying to ensure that we continue to offer fair terms and conditions to our staff whilst addressing our financial challenge so that we continue to deliver vital front-line services for the people of Lancashire. We will, of course, consult with the trades unions on any proposed changes.”

The county council’s cabinet meet from 2pm on Thursday (9 November) to discuss the proposal, which is part of a wider savings scheme planned by the council.

Would this change impact you? What do you think about the move? Let us know in the comments below

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