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Councillors clash over low-paid workers' handout
WIRRAL’S council leader has hit back at Liberal Democrat accusations that his group have “betrayed” the authority's lowest paid workers.
Councillor Phil Davies, Labour group leader, said the scrapping of a £250 handout to workers earning less than £21,000 per year was vital in order to tackle a massive budget overspend.
His comments come after Lib Dem councillor Stuart Kelly argued that Labour had a “moral duty” to ensure employees receive the cash.
He believes the decision to freeze the payments will have an impact on struggling families’ finances.
But Cllr Davies said the council had been forced to make the cuts because of a £15.3m overspend and invited Cllr Kelly to suggest where else savings could be made.
He told the Globe: “Due to the fact that the Government is slashing funding to local council’s, we can no longer afford to pay the £250 local pay award to staff earning less than £21,000 per year.
"The magnitude of the cuts that we are being forced to make is unprecedented and to implement this would cost around £1million. To put that into context, £1 million is the equivalent of about 55 salaries.
“This has been a difficult decision and I am obviously disappointed that we have been forced into this position.
“My message to Stuart Kelly is that if he wants to spend this money, he needs to tell me and the public how else he would make the necessary savings. It is irresponsible for the Liberal Democrats to ask to spend money on lots of items when they cannot come up with alternative suggestions.”
More than 5,000 of the council’s workers received the payment last year including school crossing patrols, youth workers and cleaners.
However Cllr Kelly said the removal of the handout would not be welcome news in the wake of senior managers being given “bumper pay-offs.”
He said: “Receiving this letter from the council in the same week that employees are reading about the bumper pay-offs awarded to senior managers recently under investigation must leave them feeling bewildered and under-valued.
“This payment was agreed in March this year and people will have made their plans expecting to receive it in October - I will be looking to persuade the Labour party they have a moral duty to ensure the money is paid.
“Labour often tell us they are on the side of low paid working people – no longer it seems.”
But the council leader said recent payments to chief officers would save the authority money in the future and also revealed plans to increase workers’ pay to a “living wage.”
Councillor Davies added: “The settlements that we have reached were agreed by all three party leaders so Cllr Kelly should speak to the Lib Dem group leader.
“In the long-term we will make savings and in the case of the director of finance, Ian Coleman, and the director of law, Bill Norman – those posts may well disappear as part of senior management restructuring.
He added: “However, despite a very difficult budget situation, this administration is committed to protecting the lowest paid. This December, we will become one of only a handful of councils in the country to become a Living Wage employer, guaranteeing all of our staff the UK Living Wage.
"We have already implemented the guidelines, meaning that all employees are now guaranteed the UK Living Wage of £7.20 per hour.
"This is a positive step at a crucial time, when the working poor are facing benefit cuts while struggling with rising bills so I hope that the rest of the public sector and other large employers in Wirral will follow suit.”