Thursday 9 May 2013

Kitcat calls for 'legal, fair and affordable' suggested solutions to Brighton pay cut crisis

I posted an item on the situation in Brighton and Hove where the local Green Party and Caroline Lucas MP have condemned the Council's pay modernisation which involves a pay cut for a minority of workers and increases for others.

Jason Kitcat, Convenor of the Green Group of councillors has responded to the criticism with this article on the Liberal Conspiracy website:

My colleagues and I on Brighton and Hove Council have led this country’s first Green local authority since May 2011, although as a minority administration we can (and do) get over-ruled by Labour and the Tories when they choose to work together.

There’s much we’ve done over the last two years which has been widely welcomed including introducing the Living Wage, building more affordable homes, protecting third sector funding, becoming the world’s first One Planet City and progressing a City Deal, but it’s fair to say that staff pay has been the most controversial issue we have had to deal with.

We inherited a deeply flawed and muddled pay and allowances structure from previous administrations, and indeed from predecessor defunct local authorities.

The lowest paid were not getting a living wage and the work on resolving single status for employee take-home pay (regardless of gender) was incomplete.

The Tory-Lib Dem cuts to local government have also hit us hard: in fact, they are the second steepest faced by any council of our type. Furthermore, we cannot raise Council Tax beyond a level Labour or the Tories would support. Although senior management pay is down to its lowest level for over ten years, the budget is exceptionally tight.

So we’re consulting on a proposal that will bring in fair pay and allowances for all who work for the council.
Building on the Living Wage we’ve already introduced for the lowest paid, we now are seeking to complete the final step of ensuring single status for all council employees.

It is very clear that this is not about budget savings and not about ‘austerity’. In fact, based on the offer under consultation, the pay bill is likely to go up slightly. Which other Council in the country can claim that?
What is the offer then? The offer includes three key aspects:

1) A new fair and simple set of allowances which is easy to understand and helps the council meet the needs of our citizens.With these new allowances 90% of staff will see very little or no change at all in their take home pay. Of those that do, the majority will actually see an increase and a minority will see some detriment. Most of those seeing detriment will, it is estimated, lose less than £25 per week. I recognise even that is a lot to some people, but not the headline figures being used by some individuals.

2) Anyone who is unfortunately suffering detriment will be generously compensated for that loss with a lump sump payment. For example someone losing between £1,001 and £1,250 a year is proposed to receive £3,550 in one-off compensation.

3) We are keen to provide new opportunities for staff. We hope that, if agreed at a future committee, changes like Bank Holiday working can increase opportunities for waste and recycling staff whilst improving services to the city by eliminating changing collection days every time there is a Bank Holiday.

Some staff will regrettably see allowances reduced, but we can see no legal and affordable way merely to increase everyone’s pay up to those levels – and we therefore propose a lump sum to compensate those staff, worth very roughly about three years’ worth of any reduction.

We have to resolve these allowances now. To do so without any detriment to any member of staff would sadly be totally unaffordable, even with Council Tax rises that would certainly not be supported by Labour and Conservative councillors.

I know this process has been controversial and could have been communicated better. Some colleagues locally have concerns about it, to say the least.

I would therefore welcome suggestions from them, as well as from staff and the unions, on how to improve these proposals in any way which is legal, fair and can be afforded within the tight budget limits effectively set by the government as well as our Labour and Tory opposition.

For more on the proposals, see Jason’s blog here.
Jason Kitcat is a Green City Councillor. He is writing in his capacity as Convenor of the Green Group of councillors on Brighton & Hove City Council.

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