E&E | City vows to tackle low wages

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20 June 2013

City vows to tackle low wages

by Gordon Richardson

EXETER City Council has pledged to pay all its staff a ‘living wage’ – and is urging other employers to follow suit.

The plans will mean a pay rise for 56 of the authority’s lowest paid workers, mostly street sweepers, refuse collectors and recycling centre staff.

The move will cost around £100,000 a year – money council chiefs say they can afford after slashing senior management costs by £1m. Raising wages of low-paid staff is also expected to reduce the city’s benefits bill.

It comes after a report revealed how average earnings in Exeter have failed to keep pace with the rest of the South West and the country as a whole over the past decade.

The Living Wage Foundation campaigns for employers outside London to pay at least £7.45 an hour – equivalent to an annual salary of around £14,300 – to enable full-time workers to maintain a safe, decent standard of living and allow people to save for future needs and goals.

The legal minimum wage is currently £6.19 an hour for employees aged 21 or over, falling to £3.68 for 16- and 17-year-olds. Apprentices can be paid as little as £2.65 an hour.

Councillor Rosie Denham, the Labour-controlled authority’s portfolio holder for economy and tourism, is to lead a new forum set up to examine the issue of low wages and the cost of living in Exeter.

Explaining why the council plans to increase the wages of its lowest paid staff by up to 16 per cent, she said: “We believe this is a progressive and fair way to get people out of relative poverty and to reduce benefits. This is about the city council doing what’s right for our staff and also leading the way.

“We have an ambition to become a Living Wage city but we recognise that this isn’t necessarily going to be easy for businesses. It’s obviously a difficult economic time.

“We recognise it’s not something you can do overnight but we want to have that discussion with businesses.”

Median average annual earnings in Exeter, at £22,100, are £4,500 below the average for England and Wales.

The city lags behind Plymouth, where the average annual full-time salary is £24,000, and Bristol, where it is £25,500.

Between 2002 and 2012, average salaries rose by just 21.4 per cent in Exeter, compared with an increase of 30.4 per cent in Plymouth, 28.8 per cent in Bristol and 29.5 per cent in the South West as a whole.

Council leader Councillor Pete Edwards said: “Paying people a ‘living wage’ helps reduce poverty and dependence on benefits. It also means there is more money to be put back into the local economy.

“These are difficult financial times for everyone but there are things we can do to pull ourselves away from this challenging position and that is why we are taking a lead and proposing that all our workers are paid at least a ‘living wage’. We hope other businesses in the city might follow our example.

2 thoughts on “E&E | City vows to tackle low wages

  1. E&E Letters | 27 June 2013
    A living wage is needed for all

    IT is very welcome news that Exeter City Council has pledged to pay a ‘living wage’ to its staff (City vows to tackle low wages, E&E, 20 June 2013). This is a key Green Party policy and was included in our recent Devon County Council election manifesto.

    However, a recent report revealed that average earnings in Exeter have failed to keep pace with the rest of the South West. Key to ensuring decent pay for all is to ensure that the private sector implements a living wage.

    On this critical issue Labour in Exeter seem to be resorting to wishful thinking; simply hoping businesses in the city will follow the lead taken by Exeter City Council is not good enough.

    This is why the Green Party has advocated the introduction of the Living Wage Employer’s Mark, offering accreditation to employers that pay the living wage, or those committed to an agreed timetable of implementation. Such an accreditation scheme is already in existence, offered by the Living Wage Foundation.

    This way, locally based businesses will have something to shout about as they introduce decent pay, and Exeter will really be able to move towards declaring itself a Living Wage City.

    Andrew Bell
    Exeter Green Party Policy Officer


  2. E&E Letters | 11 July 2013
    Long road to raise wages

    I THANK Andrew Bell for his qualified welcome of the news that Exeter City Council has pledge to a ‘living wage’ to its staff (A living wage is needed by all, Letters, June 27).
    I echo his view that it is wishful thinking that to hope that businesses in the city will follow the lead taken by Exeter City Council.

    That is why myself and my Labour colleagues have had long and in-depth discussions at local party level.

    That is why I welcomed the excellent report on low average earnings in Exeter that came before Scrutiny Committee – Economy on May 30. He may be interested to know that the committee recommended that the scrutiny economy and executives “consider mechanisms that would provide the means to ensure that the City strives to achieve higher wage levels” .

    One of those mechanisms was to be considered was the establishment of a Task and Finish Group.

    At the subsequent executive committee meeting, Cllr Rosie Denham, as Portfolio Holder for Economy and Culture, put forward a proposal to establish a Low Wage Forum, to consider the impact of low wages and high cost of living on Exeter residents and identify strategies to address these issues. This forum would invite representatives from the university, local businesses and community groups to come along to give views and evidence to councillors. I want to ensure that I never hear comments like “people should be pleased to work here and be happy with low pay – just look at the views”.

    I am sure that this new forum will address many issues, including how to encourage as many businesses as possible to follow Exeter City Council’s lead. I would imagine that the forum would enter into meaningful dialogue with the Living Wage Foundation.

    I, for one, have no illusions how hard this journey will be but I am looking forward to the challenges ahead. So this is no simple wishful thinking, but the start of robust positive action to encourage city businesses to follow the lead set by the strong Labour administration on Exeter City Council.

    Paul Bull
    Labour and Co-operative Councillor for Cowick


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