Edinburgh council chiefs vow to fight against big pay rises

Edinburgh council leader Adam McVey
Edinburgh council leader Adam McVey
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Council leader Adam McVey has committed to making sure top council executives will not pocket the three per cent pay rise announced in the coalition’s budget proposal.

The head of the SNP-Labour led council was forced to defend Edinburgh’s move to ring-fence money for potential “across the board” staff pay rises as union bosses announced plans to picket city chambers at Thursday’s budget meeting to voice their anger at local government cuts.

Unison – the UK’s largest council union – have warned year-on-year cuts are now threatening the council’s ability to meet its statutory duties, saying there had been a “silent slaughter” of services.

Union Edinburgh branch secretary Tom Connolly blamed the Scottish Government for the financial squeeze as Edinburgh council struggles to balance the books due to rising school rolls, care costs, homelessness and road maintenance repairs. He said: “The Scottish government, while talking the talk about beating austerity, have in fact handed it down to local government.

“Edinburgh has lost £250 million in cuts – a quarter of its previous budget – in the last five years. Nine out of ten of all the austerity job cuts have come from local councils.”

Unison Edinburgh president John Stevenson added: “The public rightly get angry about potholes and refuse collection issues. They often don’t equate that to the fact that the council has been starved of funds year on year. But patients and their families waiting for a care package have understood the effect of cuts only too well over the last few years.

“We need to get the message out that there has been a silent slaughter of council services by the Scottish government and we are not going to let them get away with putting all the blame on councils.”

Unison has claimed council staff are being increasingly overworked to cover for job cuts and are suffering from all-time low levels of morale.

The pitch comes against the backdrop of ongoing pay negotiations led by COSLA – the umbrella group for Scottish councils – that will determine which staff will be entitled to a pay rise and at what level.

The SNP-Labour led council said they had set aside money to raise all council staff wages by three per cent, but they would not expect their top executives, including chief executive Andrew Kerr, to receive the pay award.

Mr Kerr is the council’s highest-paid worker, earning an annual salary of £165,810.

A three per cent pay rise would add nearly £5,000 to his pay packet at a time when the council has managed to claw back overall funding cuts for this year’s budget from 4.3 per cent to under one per cent.

Fifteen council staff, including Executive Director of Communities and Families Alistair Gaw and Executive Director of Place Paul Lawrence, earn more than £100,000 a year.

Cllr McVey said he would argue strongly that any increase in wages would only go to lower paid council staff.

He said: “We all recognise that council employees are at the heart of successful service delivery and value their contribution to the citizens of Edinburgh.

“It’s important that incomes now increase at a faster rate after the public sector pay restraint of recent years.

“Pay negotiations are ongoing through COSLA, but we have increased our provision in the budget by a further £5.4m to cover the expected pay.

“I expect the pay settlement to reflect the spirit of the Scottish Government principles and that senior, highly-paid council officers will not receive anything close to a three per cent pay award. I will be arguing strongly through COSLA that the pay settlement increase is targeted at those at the lower end of the pay scale.”

SNP councillor and finance convenor Alasdair Rankin said the council had allowed enough money for an “across-the-board” increase of three per cent, but he would “be surprised” if following the outcome of Cosla’s decision that would apply to senior staff.

He said: “Although we’ve allowed for three per cent, I am more than certain that what we’ll end up with is similar to the Scottish Government.

“The Scottish Government has come up with its own formula, which is anyone on £36,500 or less will get three per cent, anybody on the higher figure will get two per cent and anyone on £80,000-plus will get a flat £1,600.

“Since 2010 there has been a real terms decrease of 15 per cent in public sector pay and local authorities and we want to keep our staff motivated and committed in their work.”

Tory Cllr Graham Hutchison agreed the administration should be looking at a lesser pay award. He said: “The pay award position is being negotiated nationally, so there’s very little leverage over it. Whatever Cosla agrees, will have to be implemented, but I do think we should be looking at a lesser award across the board.”

Campaigners Taxpayers’ Alliance, which reports salaries for top public servants across Scotland, urged Edinburgh council to go as far as enforcing a pay freeze when it came to the authority’s highest-paid executives.

Chief executive John O’Connell said: “Despite many in the public sector facing a much-needed pay freeze to help bring the public finances under control, many town hall bosses are continuing to pocket huge remuneration packages, with the number of people on six-figure deals actually going up since last year.

“There are talented people in the public sector who are trying to deliver more for less, but the sheer scale of these packages raise serious questions about efficiency and priorities.”

Unison will lobby key leaders as they arrive for Thursday’s council budget meeting, demanding they publish a parallel budget to show the people of Edinburgh what services would look like if they were properly funded.

The union has highlighted the worrying situation in home care as an example of the human effect of cuts.

Mr Connolly said: “The council’s own figures show that there are over 7,000 hours of unmet care needs.

“By our calculation that means there are about 200 fewer jobs than there should be. That’s the real effect of cuts. In local government, you cut the people, you cut a service.”