It’s budget day in Leeds … now where were we with the Living Wage?

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Cllr Green: no long-term commitment

Interesting news from Bradford where the Labour-run council has announced it’s proposing to pay over 2,000 of its lowest-paid workers the “living wage” from autumn this year.

According to a report in the Telegraph and Argus, bringing the pay of council workers like gardeners, cleaners, cooks, security guards, drivers and refuse workers up to £7.85 per hour is going to cost the council £1.6m.

The change, if approved tomorrow by a meeting of Bradford’s Full Council, is not a long-term commitment, however.

Council leader Cllr David Green told the paper “the authority would not be signing up to the Living Wage Charter as it was unable to commit to paying the rate forever”.

Good news for those affected, but think of it as “Living Wage” lite.

What’s this got to do with Leeds?

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Cllr Wakefield: fair wage, regional living wage …

Coincidentally, today – the day the council in Leeds gets to approve its annual budget – is the one day of the year that councillors discuss the “living wage”.

It’s become a time-honoured tradition at Leeds City Council that opposition councillors use the “living wage” as a stick with which to beat the ruling Labour Party.

Every year there’s no mention of introducing the “living wage” for low-paid council workers in the Labour budget. And every year one of the opposition parties proposes an amendment to introduce it (this year it’s the Tories’ turn).

And every year the amendment gets voted down by the Labour majority, with promises that they’re working on introducing something … sometime.

Back in 2013 council leader Keith Wakefield told the budget meeting of the council that “by working with trade unions to make more savings, this Council will become a fair wage Council next year.”

Last year he told the meeting that “working with the unions, we will show commitment to low paid workers by introducing a regional living wage for this Council and for this city”.

Fair wage? Regional living wage? Whatever … if anything has happened since last year I missed it. It’s probably still being discussed with the unions.

To be fair, it’s complicated.

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Leeds MP: “brilliant news” from Bradford

First the council has got to find the money to pay the increased wage bill (and how much is needed depends on who you believe).

Then it’s got to be certain that it’s going to be able to cope with the permanent uncertainty that would come with having a two-tier wage policy, with one tier – the “Living Wage” – set annually by an outside body over which it has no control (that’s the bit that Bradford seems to have ducked).

Then it’s got to factor in the likely knock-ons for those working for schools (not covered usually by the amendments) and, in the long term, for the thousands of workers employed by firms that the council contracts work out to (ducked for the moment by Bradford too).

And then there are the pay-scale issues. Bring the 1,500 lowest-paid council workers in Leeds up to the Living Wage and you’ll almost inevitably end up with some staff suddenly earning the same as their supervisors. Career paths and pay differentials thrown into confusion at a stroke.

Some councils, like Birmingham, have managed it. Others, like Leeds, haven’t.

If you want to watch this year’s episode of the Leeds “Living Wage” saga live, you can tune in here from 1.30pm.

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