Anger as living wage supplement is ‘axed' by Harrogate Borough Council

Harrogate Borough Council has 'axed' the living wage supplement.
Harrogate Borough Council has 'axed' the living wage supplement.

A union has accused Harrogate Council of not backing its lowest-paid workers after it voted against giving them a greater pay increase in order to save £13,000.

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Unison has spoken out and claims the authority put money before its staff when it decided not to increase its minimum pay to the Living Wage Foundation’s recommended figure of £8.75 per hour - known as the real living wage.

Instead, the council will pay a minimum of £8.50 per hour to its lowest-paid workers, which includes cleaners, gardeners and staff at the Turkish baths.

The £8.50 figure was agreed nationally between the Local Government Association and unions.

However, the local branch of Unison wanted Harrogate to follow the lead of Scarborough Borough Council, which agreed this month to pay its staff £8.75 per hour.

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David Houlgate, Unison’s local government branch secretary for Harrogate, has hit out at the council, accusing the authority of double standards after it had a seven-figure underspend last year.

Mr Houlgate said: “The council used to pay its staff the living wage in 2014 but fell behind. Last year, it paid its staff £8.25 per hour after it used a supplement to increase their pay packets.

However, the actual real living wage that year was £8.45 so it was still behind what people should have been earning. By not agreeing to pay a supplement this year the council is saving £13,000. That equates to 0.045% of its total wage budget.

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“Let’s not forget that this is a council that underspent by around £1.8 million last year but it still can’t find £13,000 to pay its lowest paid members.”

Mr Houlgate said that the £13,000 to increase wages to £8.75 would likely be a one-off payment as next year the real living wage and the Local Government pay award would both be set at £9 per hour.

The real living wage is higher than the National Living Wage, which stands at £7.83 per hour and is set by the Government. The real living wage is voluntary and worked out on what employees and their families “need to live”.

Almost two-thirds of local authorities now pay the real living wage.

Cllr Tim Myatt, chairman of the Human Resources Committee which made the decision said that the agreed pay rise “was in line with the national Local Government Association and union recommendations”.

He added: “We had not budgeted for the [£13,000] increase this year.”