Paying real living wage is laudable aim, but not at any price - Steve Cardownie

SNP Councillor Kate Campbell raised the issue of the Real Living Wage at last week’s Policy and Sustainability CommitteeSNP Councillor Kate Campbell raised the issue of the Real Living Wage at last week’s Policy and Sustainability Committee
SNP Councillor Kate Campbell raised the issue of the Real Living Wage at last week’s Policy and Sustainability Committee
The SNP Group on City of Edinburgh Council has again tried and failed to force Edinburgh Leisure to pay their employees the Real Living Wage.

SNP Councillor Kate Campbell raised the issue at last week’s Policy and Sustainability Committee where she demanded that the Real Living Wage be paid as a non-negotiable requirement of any organisation operating from council-owned assets.

Edinburgh Leisure, which is paid to manage the city council’s sporting venues, falls into this category.

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The SNP’s move came despite dire warnings from Edinburgh Leisure Chief Executive, June Peebles, that the organisation was facing a £3.6 million financial gap which could result in the closure of some venues.

Councillors were informed that a “closure list” of eight potential venues had been drawn up which employ 85 full-time and 75 part-time staff members.

The list has been drafted as part of the organisation’s 2024/25 financial planning which would save just under £2m – still some way short of bridging the financial gap.

The alternative options to the closures provided little comfort as these included increasing charges by up to 8 per cent and reducing opening hours.

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A pretty bleak picture – but still Councillor Kate Campbell pressed on, insisting that Edinburgh Leisure pay the Real Living Wage, which would present another financial headache for June Peebles, adding to the financial burden that her organisation already has to bear.

With Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative councillors voting her proposal down, Councillor Campbell was left to lament the decision, branding it “shameful”.

Given that the committee was told that the “trade union’s position reflects the sentiments of Edinburgh Leisure i.e. there is an ambition to pay the Real Living Wage but not at the expense of closing venues and making employees redundant” it would appear that the SNP Group paid scant regard to this and forced the issue.

Had it gone through it would have been interesting to see how SNP councillors might have handled constituents’ complaints that Edinburgh Leisure facilities in their ward had they either, closed, reduced their hours of opening or increased charges by up to 8 per cent. How would they explain that they had contributed to this outcome by forcing the Real Living Wage on the organisation? Answers on a postcard please.

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There is no doubt that Edinburgh Leisure is in a financial hole which was not of its own making, but councillors should be trying to fill it – not making it deeper. Paying the Real Living Wage is a laudable aim – but not at any price!

Councillors are elected to serve the Edinburgh public and should avoid pursuing policies which have a detrimental impact on service delivery.

I was an annually elected trade union official in the civil service for 25 years, but I knew that once I was elected to the council, I had to put the interests of Edinburgh residents first and my trade union interests second.

June Peebles said that she “fears for public leisure facilities” and while being “committed” to keeping “all our venues open” she warned that “there were no easy solutions.”

That should be enough to exercise councillors’ minds – their role should be to try and identify solutions – not create more problems!

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