THE question of how much a decent society should pay its lowest earning workers is always a thorny one.
The emergence of figures today showing that it would cost the city council £3.3 million a year to increase the wages of its lowest earners to £7.20 an hour – the so-called “living wage” set by anti-poverty campaigners – will fuel that debate.
Supporters say it is not only the right thing to do, but also affordable too. Other cities, like Glasgow and Manchester, have managed it, despite the pressure on their budgets.
And it amounts to around a third of one per cent of the local authority’s spending – less than the repayments on its tram loan.
Among the problems though is that this bald figure is the only the start of the costs involved.
Staff who have taken the first step up the pay ladder will, quite rightly, demand a corresponding increase. And why should a supervisor, for instance, earn the same as a colleague with no extra responsibility? Meeting those demands would cost millions of pounds. Better pay also means better pensions, which is another cost.
All this, of course, has to be funded by cutting budgets which pay for our schools, social workers and so on.
That is not to say we should not care about improving the lot of the hard-working low-paid. It is not just a laudable aim, but an important one.
But the living wage is not the easy answer some claim. And public agencies adopting it does nothing for the low-paid in the private sector, including council staff who soon may be contracted out.
This newspaper has previously supported lifting the worst-paid out of the tax bracket and that remains the most effective solution.
Doctor Golf to the fore
golfing surgeon John Rattray deserves to be better remembered – and not just because his name alone appears at the bottom of the first ever set of golf rules.
As well as playing a key role in establishing the sport, he was a colourful character whose support for Bonnie Prince Charlie saw him prevented from defending the championship that he won on Leith Links in 1745. A statue on the Links where he played would be a great way to celebrate his story. And just as importantly it could help attract more visitors to Leith, especially when the Open Championship returns to Muirfield in 2013.
Let us hope the hurdles in its way can be overcome before today’s golf stars tee off in the Lothians in less than two years.