|CAMPAIGN: Solihull Council has been under pressure for|
some time to introduce the Living Wage for its workers
On Thursday night, councillors considered the Budget which sets out the borough's spending plans for the next 12 months.
Always a heated occasion, this year's meeting was dominated by a debate about whether the council should introduce the Living Wage - guaranteeing its core workforce a minimum of £7.85 an hour.
The Green Party, who set out the proposals, argued the increase in earnings would make a massive difference to thousands of people locally who are struggling to make ends meet. North Solihull would have been a major beneficiary, since wages in the regeneration wards are on average 30 per cent less than across the borough as a whole.
Councillor James Burn (Green, Chelmsley Wood) said it was "hard to understand" how the Living Wage could be refused; the rate is already paid by Birmingham City Council.
The idea won the backing of the Lib Dems, Labour and Solihull's sole independent councillor, but was cut down by the ruling Conservative group, who argued that the policy would cost the cash-strapped authority over £300,000 .
Councillor Ken Hawkins (Con, Blythe) claimed it was "madness" to spend this year's surplus and added that there was no notion of where the money would be found to pay the increased wages in future years.
"How can any political group seek to spend money we do not have and might not have in future?" he asked.
Speaking after the meeting, the Leader of the Council, Bob Sleigh (pictured right), said that in spite of an ongoing squeeze on council finances, the borough's essential services remained at a high standard.
"Along with the rest of the public sector, the council faces a massive challenge in the next few years to deliver public services with a much lower level of funding than previously," he said.
"However, these are also exciting times for Solihull, with managed growth in the borough's economy increasing the income we generate locally."
Living Wage: Since the late 1990s, all employers have to, by law, pay their employees the National Minimum Wage (currently £6.50 an hour). But many believe that too many families on low incomes still struggle to get by on the statutory sum. This led to a campaign, launched in 2001, for the introduction of the so-called Living Wage (£7.85 an hour outside London). Today more than 1000 employers, including several FTSE 100 companies, have pledged to pay the rate to staff.