So the inevitable has finally happened, as council workers up and down the country come out on strike for higher pay. The offer on the table from Local Government Employers is 2.45%, with an element of ‘bottom loading’ – £100 extra a year – for those on lower pay scales.
Last year, I was asked to join the “Gang of Four” – the four local authority councillors who head up the national local government pay negotiation. On the union side were Peter Allenson from Transport and General, Heather Wakefield from Unison and Brian Strutton from GMB. Their initial seven-point claim was, of course, ludicrously high – our officer team told us that to meet their claim in full would have cost 12% on council tax.
I passionately wanted to establish new ground with the unions – to agree a realistic and affordable pay settlement as soon as possible, on the basis that we started to build trust and joint working towards making local government an employer of choice, rather than, in some councils, staff being paid less than they would working in the local supermarket. In the meantime, of course, the police were royally conned over their pay deal, and are rightly furious.
Unfortunately, I left the negotiations after just five months, but have often wondered whether, despite the industrial action, the employers’ side made headway on those original discussions.
Because if Gordon Brown’s position remains a testosterone-filled “2% and no more because I say so”, then I fear town and county halls the length and breadth of this country will start to get what they pay for, and efficient, affordable local public services will become a distant memory.