Northumberland councillors go head-to-head on living wage

County Hall in Morpeth.
County Hall in Morpeth.

The leaders of the Tory and Labour groups at Northumberland County Council have slammed each other’s stance on the living wage and supporting those on low incomes.

At last week’s full meeting of Northumberland County Council, the leader of Northumberland Conservatives, Coun Peter Jackson, asked the following formal question: ‘Northumberland Conservatives have long been supporters of the living wage as a means of reducing income inequality and promoting social justice. In fact, we were the first group on the county council to propose that this council pays the living wage as an example to the rest of the county.

‘So now will the leader join with us in welcoming the introduction by the Government of the National Living Wage?

‘Will the leader also welcome the news that the national living wage will benefit one in four workers in Northumberland and agree with Torsten Bell, of the Resolution Foundation, that ‘the national living wage will transform the low-pay landscape in the North East with Northumberland the most affected area?’

Council and Labour leader, Coun Grant Davey’s response was: ‘The Labour Administration introduced its own living wage, the Northumberland living wage on October 1, 2015. The rate for the Northumberland living wage is £7.85 which is nine per cent higher than the Government’s new so-called living wage set at £7.20 which is actually the new minimum wage for over 25-year-olds and that Northumberland Conservatives voted against the budget last month that included the review of the Northumberland living wage in October 2016 when it is hoped to raise the rate of our 1,400 staff who are currently paid the higher Northumberland rate over and above the National Living Wage’.

After the meeting, Coun Jackson criticised Coun Davey for refusing to welcome the Government’s introduction of the national living wage when Northumberland has a very high proportion of workers on low-income levels.

He said: “Here we have proof that yet again people on low incomes are being let down by Labour. Not only did Labour refuse to support our original proposals to introduce a living wage at Northumberland County Council, but, now that this has become national policy, they still refuse to welcome this and support those in need in our county.

“There is still a huge disparity in terms of the pay structure at Northumberland County Council. Those at the top are being paid far more than the Prime Minister whereas those at the bottom of the scale are finding it hard to make ends meet. This is the situation locally created by the controlling Labour/Independent administration.

“It is clear that the Labour leader, Grant Davey, is prepared to say anything to divert responsibility and to escape from these facts.”

But Coun Davey responded by saying that his comments on residents on low incomes were ‘illuminating and damning’ as he highlighted moves by ‘Coun Jackson’s Government to choke off economic growth in Northumberland’.

He referred to figures from Shelter, the homeless charity, which said that to buy a home in Northumberland, you would need to have an income of £44,000, adding: “If Northumberland Conservatives’ figures are to be believed, it’s a damning indictment on employers in Northumberland that one in four workers over 25 only receive a level of pay that’s less than £14,000 in their full-time employment and that they have no hope according to Shelter to ever get onto the housing ladder.

“With this Conservative Government stopping our council-house and social-housing building programmes and deciding to force housing associations to become private landlords, at least a quarter of Northumberland working families are destined never to own a home, have difficulty accessing a social-let property and be exposed to a growing private-let market. This isn’t just extending Northumberland’s housing crisis, the Tories are creating a housing catastrophe.

“Coun Jackson is happy to back his Government as they slash grants to Northumberland residents over the next three years with residents in rural Northumberland worth only £6.85 per head compared with urban North Tyneside whose residents will still receive a massive £66.82 per head by 2019. He needs to stop spinning for Cameron and start standing up for Northumberland.”