In the face of government cutbacks, the Green led council is looking at reducing locally negotiated allowances for council staff. These allowances go in most cases to the least well paid.
The Policies and Resources committee was standing room only in the public gallery of Hove Town Hall. Workers and their supporters were made to wait almost three hours as the issue was moved to the end of the agenda. After a long wait the public gallery was cleared so the debate could be had behind closed doors! This gutless move was made in the hope the gallery would clear itself during the long meeting.
After the secret debate the Greens and the Tories voted in favour of asking officers to 'explore' the allowance system, while Labour voted against.
Details of the proposals will now be made by officers with an October deadline to put the new scheme into place. Depending on the details of the changes, most workers will see cuts in these allowances as a line in the sand. Public sector workers have faced years of below inflation pay rises, while the costs of utilities, food, rent etc have all risen. This comes on top of years of belt tightening. The Bank of England estimates that the pay packet of the average worker is now worth 15% less than it was in the pre-crisis period. Benefits (often topping up the wages of low-paid workers) have also been slashed by the government.
The Greens are clearly willing to wage a battle over this issue; when council leader Jason Kitkat was asked why the report reserves the option of imposing any changes without union agreement, he replied they had to keep that option open in case it proved necessary.
They are trying to balance the books in the face of government cuts, but instead of taking the fight to the government they are taking it to the council workforce and service users. Even with the best intentions the council will end up cutting jobs, pay and services. Two years that could have been used to build a campaign against government cuts have been wasted. The Greens have been backed into a corner but they refuse to even consider a fightback.