London’s councils could quit local government’s national pay bargaining mechanism en masse following the controversial decision to offer the sector’s workforce a pay rise worth up to 1.25%.
Local Government Employers’ (LGE) made the move to end the political deadlock on pay and it has provoked a backlash from many authorities which opposed even the previously rejected 0.5% offer for 1.6 million council workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Merrick Cockell (Con), chairman of London Councils, said the decision, worth 1% to most staff and 1.25% to the lowest paid, was likely to prompt the capital bloc to consider joining the 40 or so other authorities which set their own pay and conditions.
“I should think there’ll be a real interest in walking away from national pay bargaining, and doing something ourselves,” he said.
“I’m not in favour of individual negotiations, but looking at how we might operate within London is something that would be worthwhile.”
He also expressed concern that Conservative councils controlled the largest chunk of local government but did not have a majority in pay negotiations.
I should think there’ll be a real interest in walking away from national pay bargaining
Cllr Cockell said the pay offer – which Unison, the GMB, and Unite are expected to consult upon until September – flew in the face of consensus in London and would fuel further job cuts.
Paul Martin, chief executive of Sutton LBC, said he expected last week’s offer to cost his authority around £1m, and warned unions’ use of the Freedom of Information Act to uncover the pay levels councils budgeted for had turned pay inflation into a “self-fulfilling prophesy”.
Stephen Greenhalgh (Con), leader of Hammersmith & Fulham LBC, said local government finance was “heading for bust” if it did not reflect the realities of pay in the private sector.
Gillian Hibberd, president of the Public Sector People Managers’ Association, said anger over the pay settlement was not limited to London and the south-east.
She said the often cited 2% average pay rise budgeted for by authorities was out of date in the worsening economic climate, and that she believed more authorities would look at leaving the National Joint Council (NJC) bargaining process.
London Councils doesn’t have the power to take all of the London boroughs out of the national bargaining process
Sir Steve Bullock
Sir Steve Bullock (Lab), who chairs the Local Government Association’s HR panel, insisted the proposed settlement was the lowest in the public sector and said he was not aware of any authorities planning to leave the NJC following last week’s decision. Het cautioned that it was more expensive for councils to go it alone.
“We were bedevilled throughout this process because there was never a clear view of what the consensus was – and that made it very difficult for anyone to agree a way forward,” he said.
“London Councils doesn’t have the power to take all of the London boroughs out of the national bargaining process – it’s a decision for the individual authorities.”