Political row over council contracts

Labour councillors have been accused of hypocrisy after it was found the council employs dozens of people on zero hours contracts.

A Freedom of Information request has revealed that Labour-run Northumberland County Council currently employs 86 people on zero hours contracts and 1,446 employees are paid less than the ‘living wage’, 150 of which are apprentices.

Conservative group leader Peter Jackson said: “The release of these figures show the reality behind the façade at County Hall, whilst the Labour Party politically posture on zero hours contracts their hypocrisy is exposed.

“I call upon the council to lead by example and eliminate zero hours contracts for council employees, as a responsible employer this council needs to concentrate on sorting out the terms and conditions of its employees, an extra one-off day of holiday is cold comfort for someone facing the uncertainty of a zero hours contract.

“It is clear that the gap between those on the highest levels of pay at the council and those at the bottom, who are actually delivering valued services, is too wide.”

Conservative councillor David Bawn added: “There are a shocking number of lower paid workers being paid less than the living wage by what prides itself as a ‘progressive’ council.

“I think it would be sensible for the council to address this inequality and get its house in order before embarking on expensive vanity projects like the proposed £40m ‘white elephant’ new HQ in Ashington and spend the money saved in a more sensible and equitable way.”

But Coun Grant Davey, leader of Northumberland County Council, said: “We value all employees and have a strong commitment to ensuring that they are all on suitable and fair terms and conditions.

“Our contracts are not the type of zero hours that have been talked about in the media, and provide more protection and rights than a casual assignment would.

“While the contract doesn’t guarantee work, when specific work is offered the worker does not have to do it, and they are also able to take on work with another employer.

“We want to adopt the living wage as soon as we can, but there is still more work to be done to be able to achieve this.

“We have to balance this with the extremely difficult decisions to be taken on the authority’s budget as we continue to protect vital services that are being threatened by severe cuts in government funding.”