Squaring the circle: behind the pay controversy at Brighton council


2:30 pm - May 9th 2013

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by Jason Kitcat

My colleagues and I on Brighton and Hove Council have led this country’s first Green local authority since May 2011, although as a minority administration we can (and do) get over-ruled by Labour and the Tories when they choose to work together.

There’s much we’ve done over the last two years which has been widely welcomed including introducing the Living Wage, building more affordable homes, protecting third sector funding, becoming the world’s first One Planet City and progressing a City Deal, but it’s fair to say that staff pay has been the most controversial issue we have had to deal with.

We inherited a deeply flawed and muddled pay and allowances structure from previous administrations, and indeed from predecessor defunct local authorities.

The lowest paid were not getting a living wage and the work on resolving single status for employee take-home pay (regardless of gender) was incomplete.

The Tory-Lib Dem cuts to local government have also hit us hard: in fact, they are the second steepest faced by any council of our type. Furthermore, we cannot raise Council Tax beyond a level Labour or the Tories would support. Although senior management pay is down to its lowest level for over ten years, the budget is exceptionally tight.

So we’re consulting on a proposal that will bring in fair pay and allowances for all who work for the council.

Building on the Living Wage we’ve already introduced for the lowest paid, we now are seeking to complete the final step of ensuring single status for all council employees.

It is very clear that this is not about budget savings and not about ‘austerity’. In fact, based on the offer under consultation, the pay bill is likely to go up slightly. Which other Council in the country can claim that?

What is the offer then? The offer includes three key aspects:

1) A new fair and simple set of allowances which is easy to understand and helps the council meet the needs of our citizens.With these new allowances 90% of staff will see very little or no change at all in their take home pay. Of those that do, the majority will actually see an increase and a minority will see some detriment. Most of those seeing detriment will, it is estimated, lose less than £25 per week. I recognise even that is a lot to some people, but not the headline figures being used by some individuals.

2) Anyone who is unfortunately suffering detriment will be generously compensated for that loss with a lump sump payment. For example someone losing between £1,001 and £1,250 a year is proposed to receive £3,550 in one-off compensation.

3) We are keen to provide new opportunities for staff. We hope that, if agreed at a future committee, changes like Bank Holiday working can increase opportunities for waste and recycling staff whilst improving services to the city by eliminating changing collection days every time there is a Bank Holiday.

Some staff will regrettably see allowances reduced, but we can see no legal and affordable way merely to increase everyone’s pay up to those levels – and we therefore propose a lump sum to compensate those staff, worth very roughly about three years’ worth of any reduction.

We have to resolve these allowances now. To do so without any detriment to any member of staff would sadly be totally unaffordable, even with Council Tax rises that would certainly not be supported by Labour and Conservative councillors.

I know this process has been controversial and could have been communicated better. Some colleagues locally have concerns about it, to say the least.

I would therefore welcome suggestions from them, as well as from staff and the unions, on how to improve these proposals in any way which is legal, fair and can be afforded within the tight budget limits effectively set by the government as well as our Labour and Tory opposition.


For more on the proposals, see Jason’s blog here.
Jason Kitcat is a Green City Councillor. He is writing in his capacity as Convenor of the Green Group of councillors on Brighton & Hove City Council.

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Reader comments


1. Doug Rouxel

Please Stop. It’s not a failure of communication, it’s much much bigger than that.

I would suggest that the suggestions outlined here: http://notesbrokensociety.wordpress.com/2013/05/09/brightons-green-administration-lessons-from-the-rise-and-fall-of-mango-politics/

Would be an excellent start for the alternative suggestions which you say you would welcome.

I look forward to seeing you at conference in future and not feeling sickened by your management jargon laden twaddle speeches, and perhaps seeing a little bit of passion and conviction in what you say. Although I’m not holding my breath.

Please note that the key point is: “I would therefore welcome suggestions from them, as well as from staff and the unions, on how to improve these proposals in any way which is legal, fair and can be afforded within the tight budget limits effectively set by the government as well as our Labour and Tory opposition.”

Just mindless abuse or tantrums will be deleted.

Sunny, absolutely. They’ve been left with a very tight window within which to achieve “legal, fair and can be afforded”, and it’s not clear to me that *anyone* has come up with any improvements that meet those criteria.

4. Dave Farrar

Better to break the law than break the poor!

5. Andy Richards

Maybe you should be meeting the workers you’re shafting rather than writing on “liberal” blogs?

Way to make yourself seem even more remote from your workforce than you did anyway.

Why not cut the pay of those at the very top of the council? Five members of the leadership team on Brighton and Hove council earned over £100k in 2012/3. Another seventeen earned over £70k.

Unless these people have had their pay cut already, than a 10% pay cut and a 100k salary cap would be fairer than the new pay deal. Only a few hundred thousand would be saved – yet it’s a few hundred thousand less that has to come from low paid workers.

Richard, Jason already explained that “senior management pay is down to its lowest level for over ten years”.

I am a member of the Green Party and absolutely outraged at how you have handled this issue.

The following are explanations of what you’ve done wrong, as you obviously need educating:

– £25 per week is still a huge amount and likely enough to cause some workers problems in paying their rent/mortgage/other bills.

– A one-off payment is no substitute. They will clearly be worse off in the long term. The Green group previously saw through a similar bribe of a council tax freeze.

– Delegating decisions to unelected officers is anti-democratic and smacks of shirking responsibility. Pay changes are inherently political so should be decided by elected representatives.

– Refusing to meet with workers is unnacceptable. They are in the best position to know the kind of impact this will have on them. Maybe they’ll even suggest some ways to avoid it.

– You also shouldn’t ignore the majority of Brighton Green Party who oppose you on this issue.

The following are suggestions, as requested, for how you can pay for maintaining the salaries of these workers:

– Cut the salaries of high paid workers. I hear the chief executive earns about £150k. Capping the pay of council employees at £50k seems like a resonable move given the cuts in funding from central government.

– Raise council tax. If the amount you need to raise it by is greater than the 3.5% limit set by the government, let it go to a referendum. Then at least it will be a public decision.

– Talk to the unions, in person, and get them to propose some other solutions.

If you cannot find a way to pay for this, I suggest resigning as council leader is the most appropriate course of action.

9. Thornavis

James @7

“Richard, Jason already explained that “senior management pay is down to its lowest level for over ten years”.”

That’s not really an answer is it ? All it suggests to me is that they were even more over paid before.

10. white trash

Not being in the in-club on this storm in a Green teacup I’m shocked by the rage and abuse directed towards Jason in some of these comments.

Jason Kitkat: “we now are seeking to complete the final step of ensuring single status for all council employees.”

So, this whole kerfuffle is in fact all about that old flash-point, SINGLE STATUS; equal pay for men and women – as pointed out, to deafening silence, by James?

http://liberalconspiracy.org/2013/05/08/caroline-lucas-says-shell-join-picket-against-her-own-party/#comment-445495

That puts a whole new light on things.

11. ludicrous pseudonym

is his surname really Kitcat? wow.

also, pay for the chiefs “being the lowest for ten years” means nothing if it’s still crazily high compared to normal people. especially when you’re taking 25 quid a week (100 quid a month!) off folks. not cool guys.

one question for the OP and I hope he can answer it: why does Caroline Lucas oppose what the council is doing? to the extent of publically being very vocal about it?

“Not being in the in-club on this storm in a Green teacup I’m shocked by the rage and abuse directed towards Jason in some of these comments.”

Indeed – I think quite a few people in the Green Party are unaware of the realities of local council governance.

The fact is that any referendum on Council Tax increases would be lost decisively and it would be a waste of scarce money.

The fact is that setting an illegal budget would mean central government could effectively dissolve the elected council and replace it with their choice of appointees. It would be a de facto mass resignation. I understand some in the Green Party would welcome that as an opportunity to take the anti-austerity fight to central government, but I don’t think the general population of Brighton would see it that way.

As far as I can see, within the constraints that local government is placed under there is an unavoidable choice between (A) equal pay for men and women or (B) no pay cuts for anyone. In the current climate, you simply cannot have both.

13. white trash

“there is an unavoidable choice between (A) equal pay for men and women or (B) no pay cuts for anyone.”

Exactly.

But this has been the case since Labour introduced this legislation hasn’t it?

Haven’t all councils been through this problem and better paid male blocs of workers have had to take pay cuts in order to redistribute money back to the unfairly under-paid female workforce?

Why is Brighton so behind everybody else?

This isn’t about austerity at all, surely, it’s about better-represented male workers not wanting to lose differentials, isn’t it?

14. white trash

“why does Caroline Lucas oppose what the council is doing?”

Exactly the question I’ve been asking.

But not had an answer yet.

15. Green Co-operator

I don’t think it’s about defending differentials, more that people who were unjustly awarded allowances that were discriminatory don’t wish to lose them, having come to rely on them. I’ve seen radically different assessments of what people will lose, the numbers losing it, through to the existing pay of those people.

Some clarity would be welcome, as to my mind, 3 better paid people in the department losing 4K a year in 3 years time is a different case to lots of lower paid people losing the same amount.

The council are doing this now because they – and, hilariously, the GMB, could be sued to high heaven if they don’t fix it. Previous administrations – Labour and Tory have ignored the problem – and the Tories resolved the basic pay issue in their former term of office which left allowances to be solved, without the ability to use basic pay negotiations at the same time to give greater flexibility.

16. Uncle Beelzebub

@ 15 Green Co-operator

I don’t think it’s about defending differentials, more that people who were unjustly awarded allowances that were discriminatory don’t wish to lose them…

Missing the point as to why some groups were, as you so rightly put it, unjustly awarded those allowances in the first place.

The council are doing this now because they – and, hilariously, the GMB, could be sued to high heaven if they don’t fix it.

Yep, now ask yourself why the GMB went along with this for so many years. I’ve worked for a large local authority. One of the largest in England. And I didn’t work in a desk job. My work wasn’t highly paid either. I was a union member too. From my own experiences I learned that certain groups within the council structure were represented by the union to a much better degree than certain other groups when it came to things such as pay negotiation. The differences in the way that mostly female cleaning staff and mostly male refuse collectors were treated is one particular difference that springs to mind.

I don’t know much about Brighton, but I know a bit about working for the council, and I’ll bet you a pound to a penny that the root of this problem lies in the old 1970′s attitude toward differentials. People may well be trying to spin it differently now that such terms aren’t considered to be acceptable any longer, but a rose by any other name…

17. meaty malcom

how much did you blow on a meat free monday campaign????

strange how you make no mention, wonder why.

18. Thornavis

Uncle Beelzebub

Some excellent points there and ones I recognise from my working life on the railway. The disparities between grades were really, and often still are, pretty indefensible.

19. Mike Shone

Conclusions about the proposed new system of allowances should be based on the principle of “fairness”

Is the proposed system “fairer” or “less fair” than the one that has existed for many years?

Any new system would be bound to have “winners” and “loosers” unless big amounts of new money was found which is improbable in the present circumstances of government cuts in funding.

So are those who are likely to have increases people who should have had such increases well before and been subject to an injustice of too low allowances? Are those who are loosing , people whose allowances have been relatively too high?

In the new system, is the position of those in low status; low paid jobs relatively improved?

Would the proposals improve the conditions of many of the female employees? (Traditionally pay and allowances have been lower in jobs where most of the posts have been occupied by women).

Answers to the above questions are needed before a judgement about “fairness” can be made.

Mike’s questions above are totally spot on, and Brighton and Hove Council’s budget has been cut, rather than then receiving “big amounts of new money”.

Those who would be brought up are indeed mostly women, because current pay is sexist and unequal. As Mike says: “Traditionally pay and allowances have been lower in jobs where most of the posts have been occupied by women”. Exactly. These imbalances are the result of trade union efforts (I exclude Unison from that), which is unfortunate.

All pay at the bottom would be brought up, because unlike their Labour predecessors, the Greens are backing a living wage, so “the position of those in low status; low paid jobs [would be] relatively improved”.

Those who would be losing are “people whose allowances have been relatively too high”, which is frustrating but the alternatives proposed so far are either illegal or unaffordable or unfair.

And until someone has a genuine alternative that isn’t one of those things, the opposition to this looks like ill-informed at best, rather than pragmatic and principled opposition.

21. Michael Taggart

If the wage bill – funded in part by taxpayers – is actually going up because of all this, many will not understand why such an unpopular action is necessary. Someone needs to explain what the urgent and mysterious external pressures are that have necessitated this controversy.

22. white trash

@MT 21 “many will not understand why such an unpopular action is necessary.”

Well in that case they are either a bit dim, or they haven’t been paying attention to what’s going on.

The straightforward answer was already given here by jungle @12:

“there is an unavoidable choice between (A) equal pay for men and women or (B) no pay cuts for anyone.”

Presumably the reason why the wage bill will go up slightly overall is because the total amount under-paid to women workers exceeds the amount over-paid to male workers.

Anyone who genuinely wants to know more about the SINGLE STATUS issue only needs to place the phrase “single status” into the search engine of their choice. On Google this morning that obtained 950,000 web hits, including this, topping the bill:

http://www.unison.org.uk/localgov/gettingequal/singlestatus.asp

For many union representatives undertaking an authority wide pay and grading review will be a new and challenging experience.

This web section is designed to assist local government branches in planning their single status pay and grading review.

Under the 1997 NJC Single Status Agreement councils undertook to end the historic pay discrimination in local government by reviewing their pay and grading structures to make them equal pay proofed.

Nothing “mysterious” here, except why it has taken Brighton Council 16 years – since 1997 – to sort things out in Brighton.

Have the poor old Brighton Greens been left carrying the can here for irresponsibility by past Councils run by other parties?

Oh, there is one other mysterious thing; why is Caroline Lucas protesting against single status and her own party’s implementation of fair pay? For the umpteenth time.

23. Robin Levett

@Duncan Davis #8:

I am a member of the Green Party and absolutely outraged at how you have handled this issue.

The following are explanations of what you’ve done wrong, as you obviously need educating:

– £25 per week is still a huge amount and likely enough to cause some workers problems in paying their rent/mortgage/other bills.

Is it? How much are the relevant workers makign now, and why is it going to take them more than 3 years (the value of the one-off buyout payment) to sort out their finances so that they can afford their rent/mortgage/other bills?

– A one-off payment is no substitute. They will clearly be worse off in the long term…

We are given to understand that the changes in allowances are part of equalisation of pay; within a limited budget, what’s your idea for equalising pay so as to avoid massive liabilities for failure to do so?

– Delegating decisions to unelected officers is anti-democratic and smacks of shirking responsibility. Pay changes are inherently political so should be decided by elected representatives.

Which decisions are being delegated?

– Refusing to meet with workers is unnacceptable. They are in the best position to know the kind of impact this will have on them. Maybe they’ll even suggest some ways to avoid it.

There’s a consultation in place; what’s the problem with that?

– You also shouldn’t ignore the majority of Brighton Green Party who oppose you on this issue.

If they’re wrong, and he’s right – why not? He’s not a delegate of the Brighton Greens to the Council; he’s a representative of the whole of his ward, to which he is answerable.

The following are suggestions, as requested, for how you can pay for maintaining the salaries of these workers:

– Cut the salaries of high paid workers. I hear the chief executive earns about £150k. Capping the pay of council employees at £50k seems like a resonable move given the cuts in funding from central government.

That depends on whether your objective is ideological purity or actually having a functioning Council. Nobody capable of running a Council of Brighton & Hove CC’s size is going to get out of bed for £50k pa.

- Raise council tax. If the amount you need to raise it by is greater than the 3.5% limit set by the government, let it go to a referendum. Then at least it will be a public decision.

How does he get that through the Council?

– Talk to the unions, in person, and get them to propose some other solutions.

That’s what the consultation is about.

If you cannot find a way to pay for this, I suggest resigning as council leader is the most appropriate course of action

Hmmm.

24. Rupert Read

Well said Sunny, James, Jungle, Mike and Robin.
This announcement by the Green Council in Brighton has been poorly timed and hasn’t been handled brilliantly media-wise to put it mildly: but all the outrage and bluster by Hard-Lefties and SWP- and Labour- types in certain Unions doesn’t add up to a coherent alternative to the proposal that Jason et al are having to stand behind.
Interesting how Hard-Lefties are all gung-ho for militancy, but not for equal pay. That’s what this is about; equal pay, in a time of cuts – the alternative to which would be handing the keys of Brighton and Hove Council to Eric Pickles.

25. Rupert Read

Jim Jepps’s comment from the post on Caroline Lucas on this issue is worth repeating here:

Jim Jepps said:
“I’ve not seen all the detail of the proposals but I have spent some time going through them and think it’s worth point a few things out – but first I want to caveat that this shouldn’t be taken as support for the proposals being consulted on right now, only clarifying a few things that aren’t getting reported.

- no concrete proposals have been put, this is a consultation document. Proposals are due in September.

- the over all pay-package is not being reduced. If anything the pay bill is going up a bit.

- the council has introduced a living wage for all its staff and no one is going to go below that, so the actually lowest paid workers are getting a good increase.

- the essence of the negotiations is around allowances where care workers and dinner ladies have historically missed out and this package is seeking to rectify that with significant increases for those workers (mainly represented by unison who appear happy with the current proposals).

- it looks like the group of workers who would take a pay hit are the bin men (like in Birmingham when they did gender equalisation on pay there). If the reported amount is true (and I don’t have the figures to work that out) then it is a significant hit, albeit to some of the better paid council workers.

- there is an offer of over £15k payment in compensation for any significant cut in allowances (which would be over three years worth of the cut for the small group of workers effected). So although long term the cut would be a “bad thing” no one would lose their house of struggle with bills who was not before hand.

Like I say I’d like to see more detail and some clear rebuttals/clarifications from the council as that would be very helpful, but I am quite concerned that this is being pitched as Brighton council hates its workers when in fact most will be better off and the lowest paid are already benefiting from the living wage which is not threatened at all.”

I am a Grade 2 employee. Pretty low in the pecking order, no? I will be losing £720 a year. So these proposed plans are not helping the low paid, we are being shafted.

Every Grade 2 in my place of work will lose up to £1000 a year.

Stu, that sounds bad, but without more information about what the grade means, what kind of work it is, what your previous pay was, and what compensation’s being offered (etc) it’s really hard to judge. I appreciate that’s all quite intrusive stuff, so if you didn’t want to share I’d quite understand. Just that it’s difficult to assess without that.

James: grade 2 workers are domestics and kitchen assistants. Removing double pay on Sundays is the biggest cost to all of us. There is compensation, but if you read point 13a in the proposed plan, if you except a payout then you lose some fundamental workers rights: the right to claim against unfair dissmisal, any future equal pay issues etc.
It was quite unpleasant to read.

I would be entitled to £1900 compensation, which is under 3yrs worth of losses. But like I said I don’t like how point 13a is written, I won’t agree to compensation as it stands now.

Oh, if you have a copy of the actual text that’d be fascinating. And I hope you put those other concerns about the terms into the consultation. Hope this can be improved.

13a “The compromise agreement will set out the conditions for the acceptance of the compensatory payment in detail but it will include that:
The individual waives the right to bring claims against the council for unfair dismissal, redundancy, unlawful deduction of wages and other benefits, unfavourable treatment of part-time workers and/or fixed-term workers, equal pay or breach of contract, amongst other things.”

And yes I have put my concerns to the team manager at my establishment and in a feedback email.

34. Robin Levett

@stu:

How does your take-home now compare with your take-home before the changes last year? As I understand it, lower grades were levelled up quite considerably then.

When were lower grades levelled up?? I reached the top of my scale as of april 2012. So my basic was fractionally higher this year. With the proposed changes my salary will be going backwards at the end of the current tax year, despite a rumoured 1% rise.

36. Andy Richards

Since I am Chair of the Council Unison branch I would like to put right a couple of myths. There is no great pay bonanza for Unison members in this plan. A few members will gain but others would be placed a severe detriment, particularly people expected to use their cars on Council business. Unison’s position is that we will not recommend a deal that puts members at detriment, and frankly no union on earth is going to recommend this deal while the ludicrous clause 13a remains a condition. Whose bright idea was it to put such an all-embracing clause in a compensation agreement?

By the way, we are also in full solidarity with our GMB colleagues at Cityclean.

Here here @ Andy

38. Robin Levett

@Andy:

I don’t think anyone believes there’s a pay bonanza in this for any workers; although we are told – perhaps youc an correct this – that the overall pay bill will still go up.

As for 13a; which employer with any sense will buy out a worker’s allowances etc without the worker agreeing not to sue for their continuation? You’ll know as well as I do that that is the only way that that clause can be intepreted that would hold up before an ET.

39. Robin Levett

@Andy:

As chair of the Council’s Unison branch, could you comment on this passage from a blogpost at redpepper.org:

Frankly, the local trade unions have not exactly covered themselves in glory either in this dispute. Of course, unions rightly fight for their members’ best interests. But much of the publicity and campaigning from the unions has been deliberately misleading and in my view has taken on a politically partisan pro-Labour and anti-Green bias.

The unions have portrayed the dispute as the Greens wanting to reduce the pay bill by cynically attacking the lowest paid. Indeed that is what many of the rank and file staff now sincerely believe – partly because the council has been so useless to communicating with them. But it isn’t true. Equal pay is entirely absent from the union’s narrative. So is the fact that it is low paid women workers who will gain the most from any settlement. So is the fact that the council’s wage bill will go up, not down, as a result of the proposed settlement. The GMB is playing a crafty game with Labour locally, who have pulled out of the initial cross-party consensus trying to resolve the issues.

However, none of that changes the view held by myself, Caroline Lucas and the local Green Party that the stance of the administration is wrong and very damaging.

http://www.redpepper.org.uk/the-pay-dispute-at-brighton-council-a-green-view/

40. Andy Richards

On the issue of 13a, it is one thing to buy out an employee’s allowances, and one would expect a compromise agreement tightly drawn around THAT ISSUE. But 13a proposes taking all of an employee’s legal protections around ANY issue. So, someone could take the compensation one week, then get sacked for some reason the following week, and find they can’t go to an ET? Are the Greens trying to make their position look even worse by appearing to take up some weird variant of Osborne’s “rights for shares” idea?? I trust you can see the problem here?

One thing is for sure, Unison will NEVER recommend members to accept a “deal” like that.

41. Robin Levett

@Andy #40:

On the issue of 13a, it is one thing to buy out an employee’s allowances, and one would expect a compromise agreement tightly drawn around THAT ISSUE. But 13a proposes taking all of an employee’s legal protections around ANY issue. So, someone could take the compensation one week, then get sacked for some reason the following week, and find they can’t go to an ET? Are the Greens trying to make their position look even worse by appearing to take up some weird variant of Osborne’s “rights for shares” idea?? I trust you can see the problem here?

I can. The position as you represent it above appears to be at odds with legal realities. You should (if you chair Unison locally) know as well as I do that workers cannot contract out of future employment rights, which is what would be necessary for the emphasised part of the quote above to be true.

4. Dave Farrar

great slogans like this deserve scrutiny. Can you explain how it will break the poor. Please show how the proposal will disproportionately affect lower paid workers.

10. white trash
I’m shocked by the rage and abuse directed towards Jason in some of these comments

You are bang on right here. I would suggest anger management therapy for many green activists in Britain. Like those hounding countryside rangers trying to manage wildlife in the city.

Meanwhile UKIP are on the rise…

44. RedGreeNick

It’s soft liberals with no understanding of working class people like Mr Kitkat that drove me from the Green Party. Not left enough and not Green enough for me!

45. Planeshift

“I know this process has been controversial and could have been communicated better. Some colleagues locally have concerns about it, to say the least.”

I’ve seen enough letters and press releases from bureaucrats and officials in my time to recognise the above as the work of an official rather than the stated author.

So this suggests the issue here is a councillor too under the thumb of his officials to challenge what he is being told.

“In fact, based on the offer under consultation, the pay bill is likely to go up slightly. Which other Council in the country can claim that?”

And which other council in the country would be stupid enough to broadcast such a claim?

47. white trash

RedGreeNick: “It’s soft liberals with no understanding of working class people like Mr Kitkat that drove me from the Green Party. Not left enough and not Green enough for me!”

Know what you mean Nick. The charade in Bristol as GP councillor Gus Hoyt acts the errand boy for Big Man the mayor is hilariously indicative too.

http://www.bristol247.com/2013/05/22/residents-parking-zones-anger-at-public-meeting-over-plans-69018/


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