One per cent pay rise for Rother council staff supported
Rother councillors have expressed their support for giving council staff a one per cent pay rise this year – below what was originally budgeted, but above the government’s suggested figure.
On Monday (April 19), Rother District Council’s licensing and general purposes committee gave its support to granting staff a one per cent pay rise, when the authority sets its local pay award for 2021.
If agreed, the pay rise would fall below the two per cent increase budgeted by the council in February. However, it would also go above the government’s recommendation to freeze pay for any staff earning above £24,000 per annum.
While the committee ultimately opted to increase pay by one per cent only, there was some debate over what figure would best suit.
Cllr Richard Thomas (Lib Dem) was among those to argue for a greater pay rise. He said: “I agree with Cllr [Sam] Coleman that one per cent is absolutely the bare minimum, but I would like to make the case for going above.
“First I would like to say a few words to the members of the public who might be watching and might be thinking along the lines of ‘we suffered tremendously, we’ve had our wages cut, we might have lost our business, we’ve been put on furlough, so why should these people at the town hall be securing a reasonable pay increase when we are suffering so much. It is not fair’.
“What I would like to say to those people is first of all something about how wage increases work in practice. If you have competition for jobs and the wages go up in the public sector, they’ve got to go up in the private sector as well, so that people can get the staff they want.”
He added: “Rother is a low wage economy and we are a significant employer here. If we increase our wages we personally can do something about that low wage economy.
“So I would want us to spend as much money on our employees as we possibly can do.”
This view was not shared by other committee members, however, many of whom felt the council’s finances would be too far stretched by a two per cent increase.
Cllr Terry Byrne (Ind) said: “We seem to be straying a bit into national pay awards and national economic policy. I don’t think there is a lot of chance of Rother’s pay award changing national economic policy.
“However, I am quite sure that politically active members, in their various parties, are going to, through their national organisations, do what they can and I would support that.
“Back in Rother though if we save on our budget we can put that money into targeted money for the less able and people in housing need.
“At a local level I agree with Cllr Thomas that priming an economy, there’s all sorts of good things about that if you are an economic theorist. But in a local sense I would rather see that money targeted by Rother District Council and our officers, because we know where the sectors in need are and we can do the right things with the right people.
“I’m not happy with one per cent but in the context of the fact other local authorities, who have probably been less prudent than ourselves, can’t afford to offer anything, then I don’t think we are seen as being niggardly with our pay award.”
According to council documents to go beyond the two per cent increase initially budgeted would add around £97,500 to the council’s outgoings per percentage point.
Going along with the government’s suggested pay award, meanwhile, would reduce the overall payroll additional costs to £37,000.
Despite some disagreement over how much pay should go up, most of the committee was of the opinion that the government’s proposed figure was ‘unacceptable’.
Cllr Kathryn Field (Lib Dem) said: “I quite frankly am appalled at the prospect of not giving our staff any pay rise whatsoever. They always work hard, but this year they have worked hard under very adverse circumstances.
“Although we’ve got two per cent in the budget for them, I think in view of the general temperature throughout the country I think a one per cent [increase] would be a very fair way to reward our staff for this extraordinary difficult year, they have just gone through.”
As well as an increase of one per cent, the committee also agreed to give its support for a £250 per annum increase to those earning below £24,000 and a commitment to pay all staff at least the living wage as set by the Living Wage Foundation.
These views will form the basis of the council’s pay negotiations with Unison – the staff’s union.
Due to the way the council sets its pay award, any increase agreed for staff is also applied to members’ allowances.
This arrangement saw some criticism from committee members, however.
Cllr Field said: “I believe in doing this the perception to the public is that we award staff a pay increase in order to give ourselves an increase.
“I think it is time to unattach members allowances from the staff pay award. I think this because I think the perception is unfair and I think we need to remember that we are not staff we are not employees of it, we are actually the council.”
Cllr Field’s views saw broad support from the committee, but members were told the decision is one for the council’s Independent Remuneration Panel and could not be determined by councillors.
Following discussion the committee asked for IRP to review the situation and look at ‘disentangling’ staff pay from members’ allowances.