Headlines: March 27th, 2006

Scottish local authorities have responded to criticism of their failure to deal with the issue of equal pay by pointing to the size and complexity of the task they are facing. The Scottish Parliament’s Finance Committee is demanding a resolution to the problem within 12 months but the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities says that demand is pointless.The Committee looked at the financial implications of harmonising local authority workers’ terms and conditions, a move known as “Single Status” and at the costs of one-off compensation payments for past pay discrimination. In a report it said that in spite of an agreement on Single Status between local authorities and unions in 1999, it has been implemented in only one of the 32 local authorities.

Des McNulty MSP, the Committee convener, said this was unacceptable and the delay had created huge compensation liabilities. “We recognise that Single Status and retrospective compensation for equal pay is the biggest financial challenge that local government in Scotland has faced. We were horrified however at the lack of financial planning by Councils to meet their obligations and their poor management of risk,” he said.

In its response COSLA said local authorities had been working hard for months to resolve the issue. The Convention’s President, Pat Watters, said the report had missed the point of its remit, which he understood to have been to tell local authorities whether a solution was affordable within the financial settlement for councils. “This report moves us not a single step forward,” he said.

Councillor Watters added, “There is no point in the Finance Committee demanding that the issue is resolved within 12 months. There is no council in the country not applying everything in a sincere search for a solution. “However what we are talking about is an extremely complicated modernisation process for a workforce of thousands.”

He called on the Finance Committee to recognise the size and complexity of the task, particularly as many of its members had been councillors or even council leaders in the initial stages of the task of trying to address the issue.

The Committee has recommended that councils, unions and COSLA engage in realistic negotiations, recognising the imperative to reach a solution. It has also urged the Scottish Executive to explore with COSLA or individual councils whether there might be any funding for increased efficiency and modernisation.