About 1.5mn UK local government employees have been offered a wage rise worth more than 20 per cent over two years for the lowest paid, increasing pressure on ministers to make more generous offers to striking teachers, NHS staff and other public sector workers.
The Local Government Association said on Thursday that council employees at some 350 local authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland had been offered an increase of at least £1,925 for the year from April 2023, following a similar settlement for 2022-23.
If agreed, that would mean an increase of 9.42 per cent this year and 22 per cent over the two years since April 2021 for the lowest paid, with a 2023 uplift of 3.88 per cent for top earners. The offer would result in a £1.093bn, or 6.42 per cent, increase to the national pay bill, similar to the current average for private sector pay deals.
The offer — which covers care workers, school teaching assistants and refuse collectors, among others — stands in sharp contrast with the awards handed down last year by central government departments for teachers, hospital staff and civil servants, which have led to a wave of strike action.
Ministers this week told the independent pay review bodies that awards higher than 3.5 per cent in 2023-24 would not be affordable within current budget allocations, although prime minister Rishi Sunak is exploring a 5 per cent pay rise that could potentially be backdated to cover part of 2022-23.
The Royal College of Nursing entered talks on pay with ministers this week, but the National Education Union, which received a similar invitation to talks alongside other teaching unions, has said it needs to see a more concrete offer on pay before it will call off strikes and negotiate.
Sian Goding, chair of the National Employers body that negotiates the local government pay deal with unions, said it was “acutely aware” of the pressure the offer would place on council finances, since it would need to be met from existing budgets, but that it believed the offer was “fair . . . given the wider economic backdrop”.
One reason the offer looks relatively generous is that many council employees are on salaries that are not far above the statutory wage floor, which is set to rise by 9.7 per cent to £10.42 per hour in April.
Local authorities want their lowest hourly rate to remain well above this floor, while also maintaining incentives for staff to move higher up the pay scale. The rising minimum wage is also a factor in other parts of the public sector, but some of the main groups of workers who have been involved in strike action, such as nurses and teachers, are much higher paid.
However, unions say councils have also been quicker to respond to the recruitment pressures seen across the public sector, with many local authorities now struggling to stop low paid school and care staff leaving for supermarkets that compete on pay and flexibility.
Laurence Turner, head of research at the GMB union, said local government employers had shown “a higher degree of independence” than the pay review bodies tasked with recommending pay for other parts of the public sector, adding there had been “quite a sober recognition of how acute the recruitment and retention problems in local government have been”.
The offer nonetheless falls short of the pay claim initially put in by Unison, Unite and the GMB, the three unions representing council employees, which will now consider their response.