Why we’re bringing in the ‘Living Wage’ – council chiefs

Coun Ed Malcolm
Coun Ed Malcolm

AROUND 1,000 South Tyneside Council workers are set for a pay rise in the new year after Town Hall chiefs rubber-stamped plans to introduce the living wage.

A meeting of borough council saw members agree to move forward with the phased implementation from April.

From then, no local authority employee will be paid less than £7.29 per hour. The council will then look towards the implementation of the full national living wage rate (outside London) of £7.85 per hour between then and April 2016.

Coun Ed Malcolm, lead member for resources and innovation at South Tyneside Council, said: “We are working towards permanently protecting our lowest paid workers for the future.

“This is not about giving staff a pay supplement which could be taken away at any point – this is about making significant, lasting changes to our salary structure.

“Staff affected will not only benefit from the extra money in their wages but also from additional benefits like increased pension provision.

“As a council we are committed to the social justice agenda, and trying to bring real change to the lives of people in South Tyneside.

“There is a compelling case to introduce a living wage because it brings dignity and pays families enough to enjoy a basic but acceptable standard of living.

“However it is important that we consider this very carefully in the context of ongoing Government budget cuts and our commit-tment to protecting vital services in South Tyneside.”

The council set up an independent wage commission in June, last year, to examine the benefits and challenges of adopting a living wage in South Tyneside, which found that a living wage would make a positive contribution to reducing poverty and promoting well-being among low-paid workers.

It also said that affordability would be a challenge in the current economic climate, with South Tyneside hit by Government funding reductions.

The council must make £22m budget cuts in 2015/16, which could mean the loss of 350 jobs.

The cuts come on top of the local authority having to make savings of £90-100m over the past four years – which has seen the loss of about 1,200 jobs since 2010.

Professor Keith Shaw of Northumbria University and chairman of South Tyneside’s Independent Living Wage Commission, said: “South Tyneside Council’s support for the independent commission’s recommendation to introduce a living wage will make a real difference to the lives of people living and working in South Tyneside.

“In recommending its introduction, the commission were convinced that increasing the income of the lowest paid employees would make an important contribution to reducing the scale of in-work poverty, have a positive impact on the life chances of families, young people and women and, by increasing local spending power, also boost the local economy in South Tyneside.

“The council are to be commended for their support of such an important initiative.”

Latest figures show that nearly a quarter of all workers in South Tyneside are paid below the living wage.

The living wage is set independently, updated annually, and is calculated according to the basic cost of living in the UK.

The council currently has a workforce of around 2,800, excluding school staff.

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‘Wasted concert money could have brought Living Wage in more quickly’

AN opposition councillor says Town Hall bosses could have brought in a living wage quicker, if they hadn’t spent money on summer gigs.

Coun Jeff Milburn, a Conservative representative for Cleadon and East Boldon, said the local authority would be able to foot the bill if it had not held events he deemed to be a waste of cash.

It comes after the council pumped £103,000 into August’s SoundWaves concert in Bents Park, South Shields, but only made £43,250 in ticket sales.

Coun Milburn asked a meeting of the borough’s council: “Why can’t we do it now, why wait until 2016?

“We were left in a mess by the last Labour Government, and we’re talking in South Tyneside, about a Labour-led council.

“What about taking the money wasted on events that people didn’t turn up to, and we’re paying people off, he added”

Coun Ed Malcolm said budget cuts imposed by the coalition Government had prevented an immediate introduction of the full living wage.

He added: “Of course we would have liked to implement the full living wage with immediate effect, but given the unprecedented cuts imposed on the authority we have had to take a prudent approach.

“When we have further information on our future funding, we will sit down with our trade union colleagues to consider the affordability of implementing the full living wage from 2016 with a view to eliminating low pay across the council’s workforce.”