Tuesday, 19 February 2013

North Somerset Council Budget Meeting - The Living Wage for North Somerset

North Somerset Council met tonight to set their budget and council tax for the forthcoming year. A few members of North Somerset UNISON lobbied the meeting. A UNISON Rep spoke at the council meeting asking the council to set up a working group with trade union involvement to look at the costs and benefits of  implementing the living wage for council and schools staff, with the aim of implementation for council and schools staff by April 2014, and shortly thereafter for council contractors and to encourage employers across North Somerset to pay their staff the living wage. After a question from Labour Councillor Bob Bateman, Council Leader Nigel Ashton confirmed that Councillor Tony Lake the Executive member for Human Resources could set up a working group. When questioned by Independent Councillor Don Davies, Nigel Ashton also confirmed that it would be a cross party group.

The Council voted against all the Opposition amendments to the Budget, including re-instating the £250,000 which had been allocated for the youth commissioning networks. It voted through a budget including £10 million of cuts for 2013/14 and a 1.5% council tax increase.

Here are a few pictures from tonight:

Here's my speech from tonight's meeting:

UNISON has submitted a paper to all councillors ahead of this meeting and we hope that you have had time to read it and that you will consider our requests and suggestions. I want to mention a few of them.

Your budget papers for tonight contain an update on the latest position of the Youth Commissioning networks. Councillors can now see that the majority of the commissioning groups are unlikely to exist after September. As a result, and also given the forthcoming legal action, it would make sense to use some of your reserves to put back the £250,000, which had been allocated for positive activities for young people.

We are also asking you again to review all your contracts to ensure that they are providing value for money for the people of North Somerset, and consider bringing services back in house where you will have more control and flexibility over them. More and more public sector organisations are doing this.

Finally we are requesting that you consider how you can mitigate the impact of some of the cuts you have already made and those that are yet to come by giving the local economy a boost. It is now absolutely clear that the government’s economic policy is not working. The public spending cuts are hitting the poorest and most vulnerable the hardest. Austerity has choked off economic growth, ordinary people’s incomes are not keeping up with prices -  they have less money to spend, and in some cases are forced to choose between eating or heating. As a result there is no demand in the economy. But you can take action to address this lack of demand, and all you have to do is agree to pay your staff the living wage, ensure through your procurement practices that your contractors pay their staff the living wage, and use your influence as a community leader to encourage all North Somerset employers to pay the living wage.

Paying the living wage will also address one of the risk of a worsening economic situation leading to increased demand for council services, which was outlined in your original 4 year Medium Term Financial Plan for 2011 – 2015. Unfortunately this prediction has come true and the council is experiencing increased demand for its services, including adult social care, and looked after children. From April the government’s welfare cuts will really start to bite - the Institute of Fiscal Studies has predicted that child poverty will increase as a result. This means that the numbers of looked after children in North Somerset are also likely to increase. But it really is a shocking state of affairs when half of all children living in poverty, live in a family with at least one working parent, and that these families are so low paid that the state has to top up their incomes with in-work benefits.

According to the TUC there are 22,463 workers in North Somerset, who earn under the living wage of £7.45 per hour. The living wage is the minimum income necessary for a worker to meet basic needs, such as food, clothing and housing. Almost 20% of the council’s own workforce, including schools staff, or 869 people, earn under the living wage – the vast majority of these are women. Over the past 3 years, while local government pay has been frozen, the council has underspent on the staff pay bill by about £2 million, and this underspend has been put into the council’s reserves. As a result there is a pot of money here, which the council could use as a one off to increase the wages of all their employees currently earning under the living wage. We have estimated that it would cost the council a one off £435,000 to implement the living wage, but given that most of the council’s low paid workers also work low numbers of hours it could actually be a lot less. But this one off payment would result in £325,000 cash injection into the local economy every year, along with annual savings to the benefits bill of £1.3 million every year, plus increased tax and national insurance revenue of just over £700,000 per year. If you multiply all these figures by 25 you can see the economic benefits of paying the living wage to all workers in North Somerset. And of course in paying the living wage you also lift families out of poverty.

Over 30 councils have committed to paying their staff the living wage, including Plymouth City, Gloucester City and most recently South Gloucestershire. So our request to you is that at tonight’s meeting you agree to set up a working group with trade union involvement to look at the costs and benefits of paying the living wage to council staff and to all workers in North Somerset, with the aim of paying the living wage to all council and schools staff by April 2014, and shortly thereafter for employees of council contractors, and then encouraging employers across North Somerset to pay their staff the living wage.

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