No resolution over living wage policy for St Albans district council

Cllr Alec Campbell

Cllr Alec Campbell - Credit: St Albans district council

Efforts to turn the district council into an accredited living wage employer have again been torpedoed, prompting a war of words between opposing councillors.

Cllr Chris White

Cllr Chris White - Credit: St Albans district council

St Albans council has previously said it is keen to gain accreditation, after reviewing the process for over two years.

But anger spilled over into the council chamber on July 9 when a debate on how to turn talk into reality faltered yet again.

The living wage is a nominal amount calculated as the minimum income needed to support a reasonable standard of living.

A scrutiny committee had urged the council to seek accreditation as a living wage employer, through the Living Wage Foundation.

Cllr Mal Pakenham

Cllr Mal Pakenham - Credit: St Albans district council

That would result in the authority agreeing to pay all workers aged 18 and over, including casuals, not less than the national living wage – £7.85 an hour.

But debate became heated when a last minute motion was put forward by the ruling Conservative party to set up a task group to examine it even further.

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The late move was labelled as a “wrecking resolution” by an exasperated Labour Cllr Roma Mills who said it was ‘disgusting’ that the Conservative party was not willing to help young people on low pay.

She said: “The living wage [issue] has been batted back and forward – a group has spent time looking at this and yet again it has been batted back into touch.”

Cllr Simon Grover

Cllr Simon Grover - Credit: St Albans district council

Conservative Cllr Alec Campbell admitted his party had been caught unawares by the Chancellor announcing an increase in minimum pay levels, with people over 25 being paid a minimum of £7.20 an hour from April next year.

He said: “It wasn’t expected, so we have had to play catch-up. It wasn’t intended to be a wrecking motion.”

Cllr Campbell said that there are some sub-contractors working for the council who paid their staff less than the living wage.

Cllr Mal Pakenham (Lab), addressing his ‘Conservative friends,’ said: “They have been in a darkened room, groping around to find where to put the lightbulb. This is a total farce. They have twisted and turned. It goes and comes back. Let’s get on and pass it.”

Cllr Anthony Rowlands (Lib Dem) added: “Some of the young people [this would affect] are now no longer young people, because we have been debating this for 33 months, and we are still prevaricating.”

Harpenden West councillor Daniel Chichester-Miles ‘confessed’ he was no expert on the issue.

To which Cllr Pakenham replied: “Let me just help my friend from Harpenden about the issue of people who serve him pints of beer and coffee. For years in this country, people or businesses have employed people at near subsistence levels, and let the taxpayer top up the rest of their jobs, because they were too stingy to pay a decent rate of pay.”

Despite arguments put forward by opposition councillors the Conservative motion was passed with a task group to report back to cabinet in autumn.