Peterborough city councillors have rejected the idea of paying their lowest-paid workers a ‘living wage’ of £10 per hour.
Cllr Ed Murphy, addressing the meeting of the Full Council last night (Wednesday), said: “You call your workers ‘heroes’ for the work they do for this council, so pay them accordingly.”
His proposal suggested the council support pay claims submitted by Unite, GMB and UNISON on behalf of council and school workers for a £10 per hour minimum wage.
However, in a supplementary clause he added a 10 per cent uplift across all other pay points in 2020/21.
It was this 10 per cent uplift that most councillors found impossible to support, even though Cllr Murphy (Labour and Co-operative, Ravensthorpe) had proposed it be paid from central government and not the city council.
“I’ve added this clause to ensure that this council which, as we all know, has severe financial problems, is not exasperated by yet more additional problemsm” he explained.
“If you pass this motion we will be calling upon central government to fund any pay award, and I think most people will agree that those workers who are currently struggling on the lowest incomes should have a ‘living wage’ of £10 per hour – these people are heroes and I think they should be supported.”
However, Conservative cabinet member Cllr Mohammed Farooq (Hargate and Hempsted) had concerns: “This council’s strategy since 2011 has always been to protect the lowest paid of our workers, which is why we already have a minimum wage of £9 per hour.
“If we pass this motion it will cost the people of Peterborough or central government about £4.4 million which will have an inevitable impact on other services we provide.
“That represents adult care home packages for 142 over-65s, or waste collection from every single household in the city, or road resurfacing of 7.25km or the equivalent of making 130 people at Peterborough City Council redundant to pay for this.
“It’s all well and good Cllr Murphy saying we should write to central government and they’ll send us the money, but imagine somebody sitting in Whitehall getting letters from one council asking for more money for community care, another asking for more money for adult social care, and then getting a letter from Peterborough City Council asking if we can pay our staff a 10 per cent wage increase across the board.
“I’m sorry, but for this reason I cannot support the motion.”
Cllr Christian Hogg (Lib Dem, Fletton and Stanground) said: “When I first read this I had a lot of sympathy for raising the minimum wage to £10 per hour, as I think that is the right thing to do.
“The trouble I have, and the reason I will not be supporting this motion, is the 10 per cent uplift. Somehow all of this has to be paid for, and what I can actually see happening is a reduction in frontline services to the neediest members of our society.”
The man responsible for the council’s finances Cllr David Seaton (Conservative, Hampton Vale) had similar concerns: “As other councillors have already mentioned I support parts of this motion – our staff are committed and they should be supported for the wonderful work that they do.
“However, the reason I cannot support this motion is that it is typical Labour – a massive commitment to spend money, quite frankly bowing to union demands rather than to common sense.
“Neither a Conservative or Labour government will fund a 10 per cent increase to all staff at a potential £4.4 million cost for this council.
“Projected nationally that would be require £2 billion, maybe £3 billion, to fund a 10 per cent increase for staff, but even if that money was actually available would the residents of Peterborough accept that spending £4.4 million on a pay raise for our staff – much as we may value them – as a top priority over social care, education, adult services?
“I don’t think that they would, and for that reason I too cannot support the motion.”
Leader of the Labour Group, Cllr Shaz Nawaz, responded: “I think that some of the members here tonight do not fully understand the importance of this motion.
“Some of the people who do these jobs are finding it very difficult to make ends meet. Some of them have two or three jobs and they’re still struggling.
“Time after time the Conservatives stand in this chamber and praise our staff – rightly so, by the way – but when it comes to giving them a pay rise they seem to have a major problem with it.
“The motion is asking for central government to fund that pay rise, alleging that Labour always a magic money tree.
“But we’ve seen how Boris Johnson has managed to find his magic money tree, making promises left, right and centre, and you’ll also see on November 6 the Chancellor Sajid Javid will manage to find his magic money tree just pre-election, and how he’s going to be offering people lots of tax benefits.
“It just can’t be right the top five per cent of people in this country not paying their fair share of taxes. That, Cllr Seaton, is where this money can come from and that is why I shall be supporting this motion.”
Leader of the council Cllr John Holdich said: “Mr Mayor, this has been a very interesting debate – but I have to say history shows us that a wage increase explosion leads to inflation. Inflation leads to job cuts and then who suffers the most? The low paid.”
Members put the matter to a vote, but the motion was defeated.
After the meeting, Cllr Ed Murphy said: “I am disappointed at the outcome because this would’ve been the right thing to do as it represents a fair settlement for government employees who do a fantastic job for the council.
“What I think was missed tonight was that if central government pay for a living wage they would benefit by having less people claiming allowances and benefits simply to make ends meet.”