Lib-Con row over living wage brews in Lewes District

“Callous and heartless” was how the Liberal Democrats described the Conservative Group at Lewes District Council after councillors voted down a motion to pay the living wage to the lowest paid staff at the council.

A motion calling for all staff to receive at least £7.85 an hour was put before a full council meeting of the district council by the Liberal Democrats on Wednesday February 25 at County Hall in Lewes.

But the Conservatives said almost everyone at the council was paid at least the living wage and added that the implications of paying everyone the living wage needed to be carefully thought through.

Liberal Democrat Group leader Sarah Osborne said: “This was a callous and heartless decision by the Tories and UKIP, who clearly don’t care about their own employees. Clearly the Blue Meanies are firmly in control of the council.

“And while Lib Dems nationally have been working hard to raise the tax allowance so that people on lower wages can take home more of their pay, here in Lewes District the Tories and UKIP have made it absolutely clear what they think of such people – they don’t care one jot. If anyone doubted the need to get rid of the Tories in May, they should be in no doubt now.”

Cllr Osborne said the proposal would only have cost around £3,000 a year.

But leader of the Conservative Group Rob Blackman said: “Cllr Osborne is right: we are mean. We are mean with taxpayers’ money which is why we’ve been able to save £3.7m of tax payers’ money since we came to power after 20 years of Lib Dem waste and inefficiency.

“We’re mean because we’ve frozen the council tax precept for the entire length of our term, returning a real time saving of nine per cent on our bit of the council tax. However we are not mean to our staff and 99.999 per cent of them already receive the living wage or above and excellent terms and conditions to boot.

“Terms and conditions that would in time see the .001 per cent be uplifted to a level where they would be above the living wage. Anyone can see that Cllr Osborne is desperately trying to score a political point or two because she knows how successful we have been in managing the council’s finances but the implications of the living wage need to be carefully thought through as it would affect the entire pay policy and even our relationship with contractors.

“That’s why we voted for a report on its implications to be brought to cabinet before we make the decision. I don’t think that’s mean, I think it’s sensible.”

The living wage is an hourly rate set independently and updated annually by the Living Wage Foundation.

It is calculated according to the basic cost of living in the UK. In the UK this is £7.85 an hour and £9.15 in London.

The Government’s statutory minimum wage is currently £6.50 (rising to £6.70 in October.

Employers choose to pay the Living Wage on a voluntary basis. An independent study examining the business benefits of implementing a Living Wage policy in London found more than 80 per cent of employers believed the Living Wage had enhanced the quality of the work of their staff.