Unison has rejected a Local Government Association claim that the 2.75% pay settlement imposed this week by arbitration body Acas will force councils in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to cut jobs.
Following a dispute between unions and employers over the latter’s 2.45% pay offer for 2008-09, Acas ruled that it should be increased by 0.3%. The binding decision means that councils will have to fork out an extra £93m to cover back pay for around 1.4m employees.
LGA chair Margaret Eaton warned that jobs would have to go in order to balance the books as councils would not be prepared to pass the costs on to council taxpayers.
However, Unison head of local government Heather Wakefield said that the award was affordable and would equate to just 10p a week on council tax bills on a band D property.
She continued: “We don’t accept what the LGA says. It’s a pity that they’ve reacted in that way, particularly at a time when a number of councils are already making redundancies and local government employers are feeling insecure.
“It’s very disappointing that they should want to make them feel even more insecure.”
The stage is now set for the first round of negotiations between unions and employers over the 2009-10 pay award, which are expected to start at the end of this month. A survey of Unison branches has revealed that local authorities have budgeted for an average award of 2.2%.
Wakefield rejected the notion that Acas’s ruling would mean employers would need to lower their prospective offer for next year’s pay round.
She said: “It’s very obvious that the 0.3% was absolutely affordable last year, so it shouldn’t have an impact on the offer this year.”
An LGA spokesperson said that it was “going to be a very tough round of pay talks”.
He said the association was assessing the impact of the Acas ruling as well as the UK’s unstable inflation rate, which has plummeted from a high of 5% last September to 0.1% in January, under the retail price index measure.
The government’s chosen consumer price index measure, which excludes a number of costs related to housing, has fallen less steeply, from 5.2% last September to 3% in January.