Councillors have expressed disappointment that a call for a fully-funded pay rise for council and school workers has been amended after it was found to undermine a national process.
A proposed motion from the Bedford Borough Labour Group at last night’s full council meeting (1 December) included a call for the council to write to the Chancellor and Secretary of State to increase pay for local government workers.
The increase would be funded with new money from central government.
Cllr Abu Sultan (Labour, Cauldwell Ward) said: “This motion is asking for a fair and reasonable increase to the pay of council staff.
“This motion does not ask this council to fund a more substantive pay rise from its own depleted resources, it does not ask the local residents to fund a pay increase through an increase in council tax.
“It asks us to write to central government, which found billions of pounds to fund a failed test and trace system, substandard PPE and numerous other dodgy deals, to ask them to now find the money to directly fund a fair pay increase for local authority staff.”
Cllr Michael Headley (LibDems, Putnoe Ward) said that the motion “correctly” sets out the funding squeeze councils have been under and “rightly” praises the professionalism and dedication of our staff.
“I’m afraid though that when it comes to negotiating pay settlement it is misjudged,” he said.
“It’s right that we call on the government for proper support for councils and the vital services that our staff provide for residents.
“However, when it comes to pay negotiation we should recognise that there’s a national process in place for this and that is what we should look to.”
He added that his amendment recognised the dedication and professionalism for council staff and it calls on the government to properly and sustainably fund local government.
This amendment “disappointed” councillor Carl Meader (Labour, Kempston South Ward) and he said that the motion was “special”.
“I think it supports the people that work within local authorities,” he said.
“Not only do I find this amendment disappointing, but I also find it frustrating.
“The Labour Group motion was simply focused on one area of improvement and that was to support a claim for a substantial pay increase for all employees that fall under the NJC pay grades.
“This amendment at best confuses the issue and at worst undermines employees within our local authority.”
Cllr Meader hoped a compromise could be reached: “But at this stage, I am bitterly disappointed and against this amendment,” he said.
Cllr Lucy Bywater (Green, Castle Ward) said: “We don’t expect there to be any new money for necessary pay rises to be given to local authorities.
“So we need to be pressing for that money from central government, that’s where it should be coming from and we don’t need to be making excuses about that,” she said.
The amendment was seconded by Cllr David Sawyer (LibDems, De Parys Ward).
He said the council needs to be “balanced”, and that the council also had a responsibility to residents who pay the council tax.
“Even if there was additional funding, which I have to say pie in the sky in my personal view, the council will still need to make a decision about how to use the money.
“I think it’s wrong tonight to say we would favour one side, the staff, over the other, the residents,” he said.
The original motion sent a message of support to council employees, claimed Cllr Sue Oliver (Labour, Kempston North Ward).
“Would it hurt to show them our support with the four resolutions outlined in our motion, which actually relate to their pay claim rather than with hollow words which is all that is left in this amendment,” she asked.
Cllr Headley said that the original motion did not follow the national pay award process, and that’s why he moved the amendment.
Fair pay increase
The amendment was carried.
After the meeting, Cllr Sultan said the motion was not about diverting funds away from council services.
“Of course we want proper funding for Council Services, he said,” but that is not what this Motion was about.
“Our Motion did not ask this council to fund a more substantial pay rise from its own depleted resources. It did not ask local residents to fund a pay increase through an increase in Council Tax.”
“I am disappointed these amendments move the emphasis away from requesting a pay raise for council workers to be funded by Central Government, to instead concentrate on services provided and the problem with funding as a whole.”
“Tory Central Government found billions of pounds to fund a failed test & trace system, sub-standard PPE, and numerous other dodgy deals.
“I think it was reasonable to ask them to now find the money to directly fund a fair pay increase for local authority staff.”
Meanwhile, a senior Conservative councillor called the meeting a “pantomime”.
Conservative Deputy Group Leader, Cllr Roger Rigby (Bromham & Biddenham) said: “Our staff are our most valuable asset in this administration, we value them highly.
“However, the farce that went on between Liberal Democrats and Labour parties revealed their lack of unity.
“In my view, the motion did not address the needs of less well off workers for example a Chief Executive being paid £200,000 would receive £20,000 while an employee on £22,000 would receive £2,200.
“It would have been fairer to call for tax allowances to be raised and National Insurance thresholds to be lifted to target increases to the less well off.
by John Guinn Local Democracy Reporter
and Bedford Independent’s Paul Hutchinson
Update: This article was updated on 2 December 2021 at 5:06pm. We added comments from Cllr Roger Rigby.