14 July 2015 | Herpreet Grewal
Introducing a national living wage for council staff could cost more than £1 billion a year by 2020/21, according to an analysis by the Local Government Association.
The new National Living Wage, for workers over the age of 25, starts at £7.20 from next April and rises to £9 an hour by 2020, the chancellor announced in his Summer Budget.
The LGA, which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, supports the proposal, but has calculated that it will initially cost a minimum of £340 million a year for local authorities to introduce in 2016 - with these costs continuing to rise significantly by the end of the decade.
Currently 95 per cent of the local government workforce earns above the proposed £7.20 National Living Wage. There are 92,820 mostly part-time council employees, which would equate to just over 30,000 full-time staff, earning less. These include street cleaners, school crossing patrol and school dinner staff.
Increasing their pay to meet the new rate in 2016 would cost £6.8 million. The LGA estimates that an additional £330 million would be needed in 2016 to initially cover increased contract costs to home care and residential care providers in order for them to pay council care staff the National Living Wage.
Based on current staffing levels, the extra annual cost for council employees pay could then rise to £111 million in 2020 as the National Living Wage moves towards £9 and outpaces general wage inflation. The cost pressure on provider contracts will also rise by around £170 million a year, reaching £1 billion a year by 2020, said the LGA.
Councillor Gary Porter, LGA chairman, said: "Almost half of local authorities already pay staff the voluntary Living Wage. This not only helps support those on the lowest pay, but also improves the motivation, loyalty, productivity and retention of hard-working council staff.
Councils support proposals to introduce a National Living Wage to help ensure staff receive a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. However, our analysis shows the cost to councils of implementing the change will keep growing and reach £1 billion by the end of the decade.
"Local authorities have made £20 billion in savings since 2010 and are likely face further funding reductions and spending pressures over the next few years.
"It is vital that these costs are considered by the government in the wider debate of council funding.
"If government were to fully fund the cost of introducing the National Living Wage to council staff and care workers, councils could avoid extra financial pressure being placed on them as they continue to protect services, such as caring for the elderly, collecting bins and filling potholes."