Headlines: January 15th, 2009

Local government unions are calling for a pay rise at least in line with the rate of inflation. UNISON, GMB and UNITE also want additional increases for lower paid workers. Their claim comes as local authority leaders confimed that the credit crunch was leading to councils cutting jobs and stopping recruitment.

The three unions represent more than a million council staff in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. They are already in binding arbitration with the employers over last year’s pay claim.

UNISON’s head of local government, Heather Wakefield, said it was wrong that while local authorities had delivered efficiency savings above and beyond those called for by central government, staff had been forced into debt by pay increases below inflation. “As the worst effects of the credit crunch reach our communities, the first line of defence will be provided by local council staff, but they remain some of the lowest paid workers in the public sector. It is high time that the vital work they do was reflected in a fair pay award,” she added.

Her comments on councils facing added work to deal with the effects of the economic climate echoed those of the Local Government Association chair, Margaret Eaton, who said earlier that the credit crunch and the recession were causing a decline in councils’ incomes and an ever greater demand for essential services such as help for the homeless and increased support for local businesses.

A survey by the LGA, IDEA and SOLACE found that one in seven councils had cut jobs as a result of the slowdown and more than a fifth of authorities had introduced a recruitment freeze. Councillor Eaton added, ”It is a highly unpleasant decision for any council to cut jobs but they also understand that local people are suffering. Councils are working hard to keep council tax down, to keep local businesses afloat and help people deal with the impact of the recession.”