Edinburgh councillor slams 'shameful' vote against paying real living wage to Edinburgh Leisure staff

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Pay plea rejected amid fears it would shut swimming pools, halls and clubs.

Councillors voted against paying Edinburgh Leisure staff the real living wage, sparking claims they have ‘abandoned’ workers.

A fresh bid was made by the SNP to have the real living wage reinstated after it was scrapped last year but councillors for Labour, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives voted it down.

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It comes after a previous proposal by SNP councillors in Edinburgh to de-fund city leisure centres until they raised the wages of their lowest paid staff was knocked back amid fears it would close swimming pools, shut sports halls, and cancel youth clubs.

Edinburgh Leisure, which runs the council's swimming pools and sports centres, says it doesn't have funds to pay real living wage this yearEdinburgh Leisure, which runs the council's swimming pools and sports centres, says it doesn't have funds to pay real living wage this year
Edinburgh Leisure, which runs the council's swimming pools and sports centres, says it doesn't have funds to pay real living wage this year

Edinburgh Leisure pulled out of the optional Real Living Wage scheme, which sets a minimum hourly rate of pay people need to “get by” based on the cost of living.

Over 600 Edinburgh employers, including the council, are signed up to the scheme, which it is estimated puts an extra £1 million into the pockets of the city’s workers each year.

On Tuesday, at a meeting of the policy and sustainability committee, Councillor Kate Campbell demanded the real living wage be paid with immediate effect, as a non-negotiable requirement of any organisation operating from council-owned assets. She said it was ‘unacceptable’ for any organisation delivering services for the council not to pay, at least, the real living wage. Following the vote she branded the decision ‘shameful’.

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Taking to X, former council leader Adam McVey responded: “Edinburgh leisure delivers superb services from local facilities for the people of Edinburgh. Their fantastic staff deserve the real living wage. Appalled that again, Labour/Tory/LibDem Cllrs abandoned workers that deserve fair pay and voted this down.”

The chief executive of Edinburgh Leisure has stated that the council-funded arm’s-length organisation “wants to pay the real living wage and have previously done so” but that it did not have the funds available to do so this year. Bosses have warned that paying the real wage could risk venue closures, reduced opening hours and redundancies due to a gap in funding.

June Peebles, chief executive of Edinburgh Leisure said: “While Edinburgh Leisure aspires to pay the Real Living Wage rate, and did so in 2021/22 and 2022/23, it must be affordable and not pose a risk to the sustainability of services and Edinburgh Leisure. The position regarding Edinburgh Leisure’s financial health and the factors determining the decision not to pay the real living wage have been shared with employees. Also, as referred to at the recent council’s Policy and Sustainability Committee meeting, 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.

“To date, due to the support from the City of Edinburgh Council, partner organisations and our customers, Edinburgh Leisure has avoided any closures or reductions in service. We are committed to doing everything in our power to continue supporting the health and wellbeing of the city, keep all our venues open, and work towards paying the Real Living Wage. However, as evidenced in the report delivered to the Policy and Sustainability Committee, the financial challenges facing the organisation in 2024/25 are significant.

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“Alongside our own financial challenges our main funder, the City of Edinburgh Council, is also facing significant challenges in 2024/25. The impact of reductions in public sector budgets is widely reported in the media including reports on the closure of community sports facilities across the country. We are working together to find a solution for Edinburgh Leisure and, more importantly, to safeguard the health and wellbeing of our city.”

Current budget projections indicate the council needs to deliver at least £38m of savings in 2024-2025, increasing to £174m over the five-year period to 2028-2029.

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