Battle lines drawn

Council tax is predicted to rise by an average of 5.9 per cent
this year. This is less than half last year’s 12.9 per cent
increase and the lowest rise since 1995. It’s excellent news for
the taxpayers, of course, but it sounds horribly like the death
knell for council workers’ most recent claim for a 4 per cent pay

With talks between the unions and local government employers
stalled (News, page 14, 18 March), and local government minister
Nick Raynsford repeating his threat to cap the council tax of any
authority that makes “excessive” increases, there seems little hope
of the town halls stumping up the cash to meet the unions’

“The arithmetic is straightforward,” says the Employers’
Organisation director of negotiations Mike Walker. “With the
pressure of the low council tax rise, we would not be able to meet
this kind of demand without putting services and jobs at

In particular, the employers have baulked at the unions’ demand to
abolish the three lowest grades of pay. This would amount to a 13.5
per cent pay increase for the 130,000 staff affected and raise the
local government pay bill by more than 5 per cent, claims

However, by offering a deal worth just 7 per cent over three years,
the employers have risked incurring the wrath of a workforce so
demoralised that, according to a recent survey by public sector
union Unison, one in three is seriously considering quitting their

“I don’t know if you can even call it an offer. It’s more like a
threat,” says Unison’s head of local government Heather Wakefield.
“It’s just going to make the recruitment and retention crisis worse
at a time when council workers are being asked to play a key role
in implementing the government’s improvement agenda.”

This could increase council wage bills as councils are forced to
turn to agencies to fill in for the vacancies, claims

The aspect of the offer that has most set the unions seething is
its apparent disregard for many of the recommendations from the
Local Government Pay Commission. Set up in 2002 to advise the
National Joint Council for local government services on council
workers’ pay, the LGPC filed its report late last year. It
concluded council workers’ pay had been falling behind the rest of
the economy since 1988. It also pointed out many councils had
failed to meet their obligations under the 1997 single status
agreement to close the gender gap in pay and to put all council
workers on the same pay structure.

“We do have an understanding of councils’ situation,” says
Wakefield. “But they’ve had since 1997 to get the single status
issues sorted out in terms of basic pay. If you look at the
agreements being reached in other areas of public service, it’s
clear that local government is being left behind.”

Certainly council workers will have cast an envious eye over the
recent Agenda for Change deal that guaranteed NHS staff a 3.225 per
cent rise each year for three years. The key difference here is
that Agenda for Change is being centrally funded. But at a time
when social care staff in particular are working shoulder to
shoulder with public sector colleagues at primary care trusts as
well as in Sure Start and Connexions services, extended schools and
young offenders teams, the disparity in pay scales may become an
increasing source of tension. Visitors to Community Care’s website
registered their displeasure at the pay offer in an online poll.
Three-quarters of the votes received said the offer was not

The employers, however, claim the offer is as good as can be
expected in the current financial climate. They point out that, far
from ignoring the LGPC’s recommendations, the offer proposes a
deadline of 31 March 2007 for councils “to reach local agreement to
bring forward comprehensive proposals for modernised pay and
rewards policies”. Prescriptive premium rates will also be replaced
with a set of principles as recommended by the pay commission’s

“The plan gives both the employers and the unions a real chance to
make progress on working practices within a framework of pay
stability over the next three years,” says Local Government
Association representative and chair of the employers’ side, Brian

As Community Care went to press no new date had been set
to reconvene the negotiations, although both unions and employers
admitted that “informal talks” had taken place. However, with both
sides of the argument so diametrically opposed and no new funding
in sight, it looks like local government workers and employers
could be facing another long, hot summer.

The claim

Unison, GMB and the Transport and General Workers Union have

  • A 4 per cent pay increase plus £200 on all grades. 
  • The abolition of the three lowest pay grades (4, 5 and
  • An increase of 4 per cent on all allowances. 
  • Equal pay audits and pay and grading reviews in every council,
    in accordance with the single-status agreement, within two years
    and with additional ring-fenced funding to enable councils to carry
    them out. 
  • Training and workforce development to be completed with agreed
    targets and deadlines for implementation and ring-fenced
  • An increase to the basic annual leave entitlement to 25 days
    per year. 
  • An increase in paid maternity leave to eight weeks’ full pay
    and 14 weeks’ half pay and a reduction in the qualifying period
    from 52 weeks to 26 weeks. 
  • Two weeks’ paid paternity or maternity support leave. 
  • Additional paid maternity leave for premature births. 
  • Paid adoption leave for all adoptions of children under

The offer

The Employers’ Organisation has offered: 

  • A 7 per cent pay increase over three years. 
  • Local pay reviews to propose modernised pay and rewards
    policies in all authorities by 31 March 2007. 
  • Reviews of other diversity issues. 
  • A joint review of conditions of service within the national
    agreement to look specifically at car allowances, annual leave,
    sickness pay and leave, and maternity and paternity pay and
  • Local workforce development plans. 
  • Replacing prescriptive premium rates in the national agreement
    with a set of principles as recommended by the 2003 Pay Commission
  • A new agreement on shared principles for modernisation and

How the offer compares

Local government – 7 per cent over three years workers 

Nurses/midwives/health visitors – 10 per cent over three

Teachers – 2.5 per cent from April 2005. Topped up to 3.25 per
cent in September 2005  

Police –  £402 in May 2003 plus 3 per cent from. September

Firefighters – 16 per cent phased in between November 2002 and
July 2004 

Prison staff – 2.4 per cent 

Armed forces – 2.8 per cent 

Private sector – 3 to 3.5 per cent (in 2004)

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