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Living wage move is blocked
1:00pm Tuesday 21st January 2014 in News
A MOVE to ensure all workers for the borough council receive the living wage has been blocked after some councillors warned it could stop businesses coming to the town.
A motion by Jack Cousens, Labour borough councillor for Brookvale and Kings Furlong, called for the council to ensure directly and indirectly employed staff should receive the living wage.
Cllr Cousens also proposed that contractors and businesses in the borough should be offered an incentive to pay their staff the living wage, such as a reduction in the rates paid to the council.
He said: “We would seek contractors and local employers to pay their employees the living wage. We would write to them and if we did find employers that paid the living wage, we would investigate a cut in business rates as a gesture of goodwill.”
The living wage is an hourly rate, calculated on the cost of living in the UK, which is voluntarily offered by employers.
The current rate is £7.65 an hour and it has been adopted by companies with branches in Basingstoke, including Barclays and energy supplier SSE.
But Conservative councillor Hayley Eachus, Cabinet member for community services and borough councillor for Kempshott, warned the full council meeting that adopting the living wage as policy could damage the economic future of Basingstoke.
She said: “Businesses in this town are doing really well so why change it now, and why try to tell them that we know better. If you start demanding more, the opportunities will dry up – I simply don’t want that to happen.
“John Lewis and Waitrose are coming to this borough – they don’t pay the living wage. This is a company that last year paid their staff 17 per cent bonuses.
“I want the borough to be a place where new businesses can come and be supported by us and flourish, and as they flourish, Basingstoke will too.”
Fellow Conservative Cllr Ranil Jayawardena, deputy leader of the council, said: “I must say that we have some excellent offices in Basingstoke and those good people should be paid a good wage. The fact is we don’t pay anyone below the current living wage, but this should be voluntary.
“The minimum wage provides protection for the lowest paid – that was why it was introduced and that is what it is there for. We already pay people more and will continue to tax them less.”
Cllr Sean Keating, Labour councillor for South Ham, raised concerns for working people in the borough, telling the meeting: “It is sad and disappointing to hear people say that we should do nothing to increase the value of the wages that people earn in this borough. The reality is low wages are a real problem for them.”
In a close vote, 24 councillors supported Cllr Cousens’ motion but the proposal was lost after 25 councillors voted against paying staff the living wage. Three councillors chose to abstain.
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