Brighton & Hove is currently in the middle of industrial action, following the proposal from the Green Party-led council to cut the take-home pay of GMB refuse collection workers by £95 per week.
Below is my open letter to the Leader of Brighton & Hove Council, Mr Jason Kitcat.
UPDATE: 10 May 2013 – 1pm. Jason Kitcat has replied to my email and his response is underneath my original letter
Dear Mr Kitcat
As you are the leader of Brighton and Hove Council, I’d like to urge you to reach an agreement with the GMB Union as soon as possible to put a halt to the strike action over refuse and recycling collection.
While I understand the economic situation is incredibly difficult, this is a core universal service that should not be affected by any imposed cuts.
As I recall, you, as a Green councillor, stood on a platform in 2011 of ‘fair is worth fighting for’. I refuse to believe that cutting pay by £95 per week for those affected is ‘fair’.
This comes at a time when new Council Tax bills have been produced showing an increase of 1.7% for residents of Brighton, despite a call from the Coalition Government to freeze council tax.
How you can increase Council Tax (setting your council aside from hundreds around the country who have frozen theirs) and then have the gall to propose a cut to the pay of key workers is difficult to understand.
This week, with the delay in collections, my own road is now strewn with rubbish and recycling that has blown away after being left out in the expectation that it would be collected.
This is a scenario that will have been repeated across the entire city and is not only a health hazard, but also a reflection on the city itself.
Brighton & Hove thrives on tourism – sadly, overflowing bins and recycling will not show the city off to its best advantage.
You must reach a fair settlement with the affected workers as soon as possible – you owe it to the residents of Brighton & Hove.
I look forward to hearing your response and how you intend to resolve the current impasse with minimal impact on the city’s residents.
Response from Jason Kitcat
I’m sorry for the concern being caused, but we are not seeking to cut council basic pay.
As a Green administration we unfortunately inherited what the unions admit was a ‘mish-mash’ of allowances. These need to be resolved as the final step of ‘single status’ and that is what the council is seeking to discuss with unions and staff. I am very hopeful for a positive outcome. The unions also acknowledge the urgent need to resolve these allowances. The most recent staff survey flagged them as an area which made career progression less clear and payslips hard to verify.
For absolute clarity this process only relates to locally negotiated (part 3) allowances, not basic pay which was dealt with a few years ago.
The offer that staff are currently being consulted on will leave 90% of staff with very little or no change. Of the remainder a majority will see an increase in their take home pay. The minority who do suffer detriment will be compensated.
We are not seeking to cut the pay bill, and we have categorically and consistently made clear this is not a budget saving process. Indeed costs of recompense mean that short-term our costs will likely increase while in the long term we expect the wage will to go up slightly.
The lowest paid staff in our council already benefit from, and will continue to benefit, from our commitment to a £7.45/hour Living Wage. We are also committed to providing a 1% pay increase as per national pay agreement negotiations.
Unfortunately we have no choice but to resolve this allowances issue with council staff pay and allowances this year. It has knowingly been left unfinished for years but the council is now in the last chance saloon. The consequences of failing to complete the process would be permanently devastating to council services. We have to complete the final step of single status, which is the requirement on all councils to ensure fair pay for all regardless of gender.
Discussions continue which I hope will lead to a positive agreed outcome. I have every confidence that it will be through conversations that a solution will be found.
As to your points regarding council tax. It is below the rate of inflation and provides only a small contribution to offset the massive direct and indirect cuts the government is imposing on our funding and on residents. In the coming year the council faces incredibly uncertainty as it tries to support all those suffering big reductions in benefits, a totally new funding system based on business rate ‘localisation’ and growing demand for social care services. More context on the budget can be found on this page
Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any further questions or queries.