Cartel risk to staff pay

The question of what to do about social care workers’ pay has never
been satisfactorily answered. The single status agreement held out
the promise of improvement in the late 1990s, but a council
workers’ strike three years ago resulted in the setting up of the
Local Government Pay Commission. It made recommendations but
concluded that the recruitment crisis in several local government
sectors still did not justify raising minimum pay levels.

Yet the social care recruitment crisis rumbles on, not least in
Wales where the Association of Directors of Social Services has
produced a workforce report designed to tackle vacancy rates
running at nearly 15 per cent. Commendably, the report recommends
that councils should collaborate more effectively on recruitment,
benefits, training and staff development. More controversially,
perhaps, it suggests a joint approach on pay.

At first sight the ADSS Wales workforce committee’s argument is
perfectly sensible: why should 22 local authorities carry on
poaching each other’s workers, unilaterally boosting pay rates to
deal with the latest recruitment emergency. Pay increases for
social care staff are too often crisis-driven and a long-term view
being put forward by directors in Wales has much to be said for

But they also recommend national pay scales for social workers or,
failing that, a series of regional ones. Basic social worker pay
rates would be raised to a minimum of £22,265 and a maximum of
£29,004. The danger for social care staff is that such
collaboration would relieve the market pressures that have helped
push up pay levels in recent years. The creation of a cartel could
serve to keep a lid on pay, against the interests of front-line

When the Local Government Pay Commission reported two years ago,
its chair Professor Linda Dickens said: “There is in our view no
contradiction between investing in staff and investing in improving
services.” In other words, high quality services depend on having
well motivated people doing the right jobs in the right way for the
right rewards. National, or even regional, pay structures are
hardly conducive to this approach.

The Welsh Local Government Association has called for a “full and
frank debate” on the matter and social care workers, in their own
interests, should make sure their views are heard.

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