Paying West Sussex council staff living wage ‘not responsible’

C121167-1  Stock Chichester County Hall phot kate ENGSUS00120120509162241
C121167-1 Stock Chichester County Hall phot kate ENGSUS00120120509162241

AN attempt to get West Sussex County Council to pay its staff a living wage failed on Friday (April 11).

A Labour councillor Michael Jones, put forward a motion at Friday’s annual meeting, to get the council to pay all staff the living wage as a minimum.

Although the national minimum wage is £6.31, the living wage for earners outside London is set at £7.65 an hour.

He said there were 4,000 staff in the county council who were paid less than the living wage.

However the motion was not backed by the Conservatives, and cabinet member Bob Lanzer said: “It would not be prudent or responsible to act now to increase the minimum wage.”

He said the increase in the wage bill would be ‘unacceptable’.

Liberal Democrat Dr James Walsh said he would support the living wage, and it was a ‘simple moral question’.

He said: “We are the employers in this situation and are we prepared to continue paying considerable numbers of our staff less than the living wage?

“The clue is in the title ‘the living wage’. We as good employers ought to be giving that good example.

“It’s really quite shocking as one of the major employers in West Sussex that we can even contemplate not paying the minimum living wage.”

But Conservative Peter Bradbury quoted Margaret Thatcher, and said: “The problem with socialists is eventually they run out of other people’s money.”

He said the move would cost at least £700,000 a year, and asked what services would have to be cut to accommodate it.

Another, Conservative, Philip Circus, said: “The most important moral principle is that we’re here primarily to represent the people who voted for us, not the people who work for us.

“That does not mean we do not have a duty to the people who work for us, but our first duty is to the people who elected us, and this is going to have to be paid by them if we do go down this route.”

He also said: “This is in effect socialism by the back door and the reality of socialism is it impoverishes people. The living wage is fundamentally wrong as a concept. The market should decide these things.

“It would impoverish people as it would actually reduce employment and what will really transform the life of the people who work for us is economic resurgence. This undermines economic resurgence, it doesn’t facilitate it.”

Mr Jones said the response from the Conservatives was ‘very disappointing’ and added it was ‘a missed opportunity’. He also noted it was ‘appropriate’ the council meeting was held at Chichester College as it had just announced it would pay all its staff the living wage.

“We’re not breaking the bank with this proposal,” he said. “It is an increase of one tenth of one per cent of the wage bill.”

The proposal to implement a minimum living wage for county council staff was rejected, with 37 votes against, 12 for and ten abstentions.