A union leader has hit out at the slow progress made by councils in implementing equal pay, as revealed last week by employers, but said government funding remained the core problem.
Last week, Local Government Employers, which represents councils on employment issues, said 47% of authorities in England and Wales had carried out equal pay job evaluations, with 35.5% having also implemented the results.
The 90% of authorities covered by the 1997 single status agreement were required to correct long-standing inequalities between occupations by April 2007. This would particularly benefit staff in female-dominated areas such as social services.
Unison head of local government Heather Wakefield said LGE’s figures were an overestimate, claiming just 40% had completed job evaluations. She also claimed some councils were “selling people short on backpay”, and that Unison had taken on “thousands” of cases.
While acknowledging that councils had made progress on equal pay, she said some could move faster by using reserves.
Yet she said the core problem was a lack of government funding to implement the changes, particularly in the light of the 2008-11 local government financing settlement, under which funding will grow by 1% a year in real terms.
This point was echoed by Jon Sutcliffe, principal strategic adviser at LGE. The organisation estimated last week that the ongoing overall annual costs for councils would be £1.5bn, while one-off backpay costs would be £1bn. Authorities would also have to pay about £400m a year to those who lost out under the new arrangements, at least for the first three years.
He said it would be a “minimum, legitimate expectation” for three-quarters of authorities to have completed job evaluations by April, but warned of significant knock-on effects.
“In a large number of authorities there will have to be cuts across the board and recruitment freezes,” Sutcliffe said. He also warned that some councils would have to impose unpopular settlements on backpay.
He denied that some councils could implement equal pay more quickly using reserves, saying there was a “mismatch” between the availability of balances and the scale of equal pay costs.
But both Sutcliffe and Wakefield agreed that councils needed to carry out regular equal pay audits to ensure gender inequalities did not re-emerge.
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