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FEATURES - FINANCE

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The national pay dispute has been resolved - but London is in the middle of its fourth round of industrial action. ...
The national pay dispute has been resolved - but London is in the middle of its fourth round of industrial action. The action began with an all-out strike last week and the unions are planning more selective action in October.

The main local government unions - Unison, GMB and the T&G - are asking the London employers to pay an allowance of£4,000 across the board.

This is at a time when London's councils are struggling to find more than£100m to fund the national pay deal. They face being stripped of as much as£600m in the review of council funding.

The unions' demands would cost the capital's councils an extra£250m. This is money they simply do not have. Funding the claim would mean a£90 rise in council tax, 11,000 job losses or service cuts.

There are a few myths about low-paid council staff that need to be dispelled. The average salary in London is over£4,000 higher than in rest of the country. In 2001, it was£19,200, compared with£15,000 elsewhere.

London council staff are paid on inner and outer London pay scales. From October, these are between£1,464 and£2,751 higher than elsewhere in the UK. In April 2003, this will increase to between£1,500 and£2,850. On top of this, councils in the capital have graded many workers higher than their equivalent outside London.

On the whole, I think London workers are fairly paid. They have received a generous wage boost of between 7.7% and 11% over two years from the national pay deal. We are not complacent about low pay - the Association of London Government is investigating it.

The recently published Audit Commission report Recruitment and retention in the public sector showed public sector workers are likely to weigh up the whole employment package. The benefits of local government employment are excellent. They include final salary pensions, short working weeks and generous holidays.

Some councils have used targeted wage increases to retain staff. In Harrow LBC, child and family social workers receive a£2,000 pay rise after one year's service. A£4,000 hike would prevent councils targeting resources at their staffing pinch points.

It would be totally reckless for councils to consider spending£250m on wage increases, especially when staff have just had a bumper rise from the national pay deal.

There is not one single solution that will make life better for council staff in London. Change will only happen if councils, staff, trade unions and the government keep talking.

Ann John (Lab)

Chair, Employers' Side,

Greater London Provincial Council, Association of London Government

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