Two hard hitting motions presented to Sedgemoor District Council this week by the opposition Labour Group challenging key Tory policies were met by pleas from the ruling administration for a ‘time out’ and a mutual rethink.
Labour Leader Cllr Mick Lerry (Labour, Victoria) spoke passionately about the failures of the Universal Credit rollout and the need for an end to public sector pay restraint, but instead of engaging in a debate, Tory leader Cllr Duncan McGinty (Con, East Polden) asked that instead both items be deferred and reconsidered.
Labour attacks Public Sector Pay Restraint
Motion number one saw Labour calling for Sedgemoor to support the NJC (unions negotiating the public sector pay review) pay claim of 5% and the pay spine review. Cllr Lerry said “Public sector workers have had 8 years of pay restraint while the cost of living has gone up and up. If you hold back pay like this then there’s a massive catch up needed. Let’s have free collective bargaining back to set a fair rate. The Unions are seeking a pay award that attempts to narrow the gap between declining wages and the rising cost of living. Council employees living standards have plummeted as their wages have fallen well behind inflation. We call on this Council to urge the loosening of the current government imposed pay restraint. “
Cllr Duncan McGinty replied “I was going to give a speech rebutting this proposal but events have overtaken us and news has just come in – even as Cllr Lerry was speaking – that there is a new offer, and we would be prepared to look at that and ask that he withdrew his motion until we do so.”
The new offer
The breaking news was true, GMB, UNISON and Unite had received a letter from the local government employers outlining a proposed two-year pay deal for council and school support staff in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The three unions representing local government staff will now put the offer to their respective committees for consideration.
The offer covers the two years from 1 April 2018. It would mean a 2% wage rise next April for the majority of council and school support staff currently earning more than £19,430, and a further 2% in April 2019. The local government employers are also proposing to give lower paid staff a higher wage rise – of up to 16% over the two years.The proposals also include a revamp of National Joint Council pay scales.
A quick chat on the Labour front benches and the deferral was accepted.
Labour attacks Universal Credit Failings
Motion 2 was an attack on the disastrous roll out of Universal Credit. Cllr Lerry called for the problems of the system to be addressed, including the unfair imposition of sanctions, the length of time for payments, the need for a rent-first policy, the inevitable descent into debt caused by the harshness of the system and the resulting increase in foodbank referals.
But as Cllr Kathy Pearce (Labour, Westover) rose to present her in-depth findings on the workings of the Universal Credit system in Sedgemoor as Chair of the Community Scrutiny Committee, which had looked into this in great detail and made reccommendations, again the Tory Leader rose to intervene with a compromise. Cllr McGinty said “We accept that Universal Credit is not working for many people. In particular the 6 week delay is unacceptable. Although we have included in the budget some £105,000 a year to help with Homelessness issues we recognise that our Scrutiny Committee has serious misgivings about its operation and we would propose a meeting to look at this together and discuss a way forward.”
Cllr Pearce sat down speechless, but satisfied that her hard work in scrutinising the Universal Credit system had paid off and led to a positive way forward.