Row over council staff conditions in Northumberland

The proposed move of council headquarters from County Hall at Morpeth to Ashington was again raised.
The proposed move of council headquarters from County Hall at Morpeth to Ashington was again raised.

Opposition councillors have criticised the Labour administration at County Hall after it was revealed that a number of people are employed on zero-hours contracts and more than 1,400 paid less than the Living Wage.

A Freedom of Information Request has revealed that Northumberland County Council currently employs 86 people on zero-hours contracts and 1,446 employees 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, while the Labour Party politically postures 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 Northumberland County Council and those at the bottom, who are actually delivering valued services, is too wide. It is a great shame that this Labour administration refuses to listen to others and to follow the example of implementing the Living Wage which has been set by other North-East councils such as South Tyneside.”

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.

“Recent figures have shown that the ratio between the highest and lower-paid employees at this council is narrowing. Numbers of senior managers have significantly reduced – with just over half as many as there were in 2013*. This has been achieved largely through volunteers for redundancy.

“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.”