Wealden to freeze council staff pay and councillors allowances

Wealden council leaders are to freeze staff pay in light of financial pressures from the coronavirus pandemic.

Wednesday, 9th December 2020, 5:00 pm
Updated Wednesday, 9th December 2020, 5:10 pm
Wealden District Council offices, Hailsham SUS-170401-214731008

On Wednesday (December 9), Wealden District Council’s cabinet members confirmed there would be a pay freeze for many council staff, mirroring a public sector pay freeze announced in the government’s 2020 spending review.

While the council is not is not bound to the government pay freeze (because it determines pay locally rather than through a national agreement), cabinet members argued it would not be right to increase staff pay when many residents were in difficult financial situations.

Roy Galley, cabinet member for economic development, waste and HR, said: “During the pandemic our staff have risen to the challenge and have done a wonderful job. People have not stuck to their own jobs, they’ve been flexible and they’ve delivered for our communities. 

“With that background I would have liked to have come to you today to recommend a significant pay increase and I need to point out that we are not covered by the government’s pay freeze. 

“But cabinet needs to take into account the economic circumstances within the whole of our community. Many of our residents are having a difficult time. Many are furloughed, some are unemployed, but more will become unemployed.

“In these circumstances we cannot really ask our taxpayers to pay more for our staffing. 

“Taxpayers pay our wages, whether it is the salaries for our staff, allowances for councillors or whatever. With their straitened circumstances I don’t think we can ask them to fund a pay rise for staff.”

The pay freeze will not affect those earning minimum wage, as the national living wage is due to increase on April 1 2021.

Staff paid under £24,000 per annum will also receive a small £250 pro rata pay rise in line with government guidance.

While the pay freeze was agreed by cabinet, the council’s senior management team had instead recommended a two per cent pay rise for staff, as well as a £50,000 budget for “achievement awards” for those who had “performed most highly in response to Covid-19”.

This two per cent pay rise would have been lower than the 2.75 per cent national pay rise initially agreed with unions.

Speaking at the meeting, the council’s chief executive Trevor Scott said: “We recognise and understand the wider economic picture and the impact on district residents and of course we do understand the way in which members have come to this recommendation. 

“I think as a management team we felt there were two important balancing factors as to why we have come forward with the recommendation advice we did.

“One relates to good will of staff and staff morale. As we recognise, throughout the pandemic we have had to rely on staff to undertake additional duties, to work evenings and weekends and volunteer to undertake different roles within the council. 

“That has required a lot of goodwill in the staff base and we recognise that as we move forward through the difficult economic time we’re going to face that local residents rely even more heavily on the services of their local council which in turn will rely on me asking their staff for their  ongoing goodwill. 

“The other aspect of our balancing act was around recruitment and retention of staff. We’ve traditionally come to members and highlighted the challenges we face around recruiting staff, particularly [those] with experience and in roles that require specialisms or particular skills and expertise.”

At the same meeting cabinet members considered a report from an independent panel, which recommended an increase to both councillors’ basic and special responsibility allowances.

Despite the panel’s recommendations, however, cabinet members argued that it would be inappropriate to increase councillors’ pay when staff members faced a wage freeze.

This would not include a small  increase in  the amount which can be claimed for childcare, although this was intended to reflect the increase in minimum wage.

Council leader Bob Standley said: “It was a bit of a no brainer and having made the decision on staff [pay] it would be wrong and it wasn’t even contemplated.

“It’s image rather than cost. It would have been about £6,000 a year if we had taken an increase [but] it wouldn’t have been appropriate.”

The senior management team had also recommended that councillors take the pay increase recommended by the independent remuneration panel.

A final decision on whether to take the pay rise will be made at a full council meeting in the near future, although it is unlikely to pass without cabinet support.