Portsmouth City Council workers pay to be frozen for two years

RALLY Demonstration against council cuts at Portsmouth Guildhall.    Picture: Allan Hutchings (113254-380)
RALLY Demonstration against council cuts at Portsmouth Guildhall. Picture: Allan Hutchings (113254-380)

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COUNCIL staff will have their pay frozen for the next two years, under money-saving plans from Portsmouth City Council.

Councillors had considered slashing pay rates of employees by one to 2.7 per cent.

But faced with the threat of strike action from unions, the employment committee yesterday refused to reduce wages.

Instead, it opted to impose a two-year wage freeze for staff who are paid more than £21,000 a year.

The council must save £2m this year because of funding cuts from central government.

The wage freeze will only save £700,000 a year, meaning the council will have to look at alternative ways – including possibly putting up parking charges – to make up the shortfall.

Council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson, who chaired the meeting, said: ‘We don’t want to cut wages. We don’t want to go down the same road Southampton City Council did.

‘And we don’t think pay cuts would be fair on our employees. But we have to save money, without losing jobs.

‘We will look at other ways to save money.

‘We can look at restructuring car parking across the city to bring in more money, and at how other services work, to increase efficiency.

‘We’ll work in partnership with unions.’

School staff will not be affected by the wage proposals.

But the number of staff it applies to is under dispute, as Unison believes 1,900 will be hit, whereas the council says just 900 will have their wages frozen.

Unions had suggested encouraging more people to take voluntary redundancy by increasing council severance pay from one week’s pay for each year worked, to two-and-a-half.

Unison’s Portsmouth branch secretary Lindsay Williams believes the scheme could save up to £5.6m in three years.

She said: ‘It delivers much better savings because it will encourage more staff to take voluntary redundancy. The idea of saving just a small amount, makes us fear there will be pay cuts announced further down the line. Losing the increments (the standard annual pay rise) will hit people hard.’

The council must consult employees and unions about the freeze for three months.

At yesterday’s meeting, Unite representative Richard White cited the recent strikes that have taken place at Southampton City Council after staff had their pay cut by 5.3 per cent.

He said: ‘We’ve seen from Southampton what can happen when you impose pay cuts on staff. We are keen to avoid that, but our members are opposed to pay cuts.’