Low-paid workers at Hertfordshire County Council fail to get pay rise as politicians reject Living Wage plans

The lowest paid workers at Hertfordshire County Council will not be getting a pay rise after ruling politicians rejected plans to implement the Living Wage.

The Conservative administration said it felt the proposal was "not appropriate" at the current time as it would mean an increase in the price of school meals.

However the rejection was heavily criticised by opposition councillors who said they were "bitterly disappointed" the council had rejected giving a "vital increase" to workers on annual salaries as low as £12,000.

Speaking after the vote by the council’s Conservative-dominated Employment Committee, Derrick Ashley, the portfolio holder for Resources & Transformation, said: "We have to take a balanced view as to what is best for the taxpayer as well as what is best for employees. And also for parents as it would have meant an increase of an extra seven to 10p increase on school meals, so this was not an easy decision.

"We did not want to impose an increase on school meals. We considered this carefully and decided that at present it was not appropriate."

The committee’s vote followed a recommendation from officials not to introduce the Living Wage, which they said would add an extra £166,000 a year to the council’s wage bill.

The Living Wage is a non-statutory hourly rate calculated on what workers need to earn to cover the basic cost of living in the UK.

The wage is currently set at £8.80 in London, £7.65 elsewhere in the UK compared to the minimum wage, which is £6.31.

A report to the committee said 4,412 council employees were paid below the Living Wage, 84 per cent of which work in the county’s schools.

As the council is part of a national pay bargaining framework with locally agreed pay bands its lowest paid workers receive £6.45 an hour.

Introducing the Living Wage would mean the lowest annual salary at the council would rise from £12,435 to £14,756.

However, as well as the additional costs, officers said introducing the living wage would also disrupt the council’s pay scale as it would mean low paid workers would start earning the same salary as direct superiors.

The report concluded: "Paying the Living Wage could be seen to be supporting the local community and economic development and also supporting the organisation’s ambition to be an employer of choice.

"However, one set rate for just London and one for the rest of the country does not take into account regional variations; a better approach may be to create more localised rates based on local markets, on a fair pay policy, and taking into account the whole pay package, not just base pay."

Following the decision Nigel Bell, a Labour councillor for Vicarage and Holywell who sat on the Employment committee, said: "I was disappointed that the Conservative majority rejected adopting the ‘Living Wage’ as county council policy. District councils have done it and other county councils.

"As we are on the edge of London it makes sense to sensibly introduce this to help our lowest paid workers to cope with the extra cost of living in this area."

Stephen Giles Medhurst, leader of Liberal Democrat group added: "It is important that the lowest paid in society should receive a living wage.

"With annual salaries of just over £12,000 this is a small but vital increase and I am bitterly disappointed that the so-called ‘county of opportunity’ does not want to lead by example with its own employees like Lib Dem run Three Rivers Council does."

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