A cross-party agreement that the Local Government Association (LGA) would lobby for a coronavirus payment to staff was ditched after senior councillors blocked the move, The MJ can reveal.
Members of the LGA’s cross-party resources board had agreed to lobby the Government for cash to provide ‘special payments to staff as a result of COVID-19’ in a behind-closed-doors meeting.
Recommendations made by LGA boards are almost always nodded through by the executive advisory board, made up of the association’s most senior members.
But, in a rare move, Conservative and Lib Dem members of the executive advisory board are understood to have spoken out against the LGA calling for a one-off consolidated payment of up to £500, which would cost more than £320m.
In Wales, first minister Mark Drakeford has already announced that care workers will receive a £500 payment in recognition of their work during the pandemic while Scottish social care staff were recently handed a 3.3% pay increase – above the current 2.75% pay offer in England.
It is believed that Labour chair of the resources board, Cllr Richard Watts, continues to stand by the need to publicly recognise council staff and spoke up at the LGA executive advisory board meeting.
But other senior councillors opposed the move.
Lib Dem leader of South Cambridgeshire DC, Bridget Smith, is understood to have argued at the meeting that the sector faced ‘many other conflicting priorities,’ including an ‘economy about to crash’ despite having praised ‘hardworking frontline staff’ on her blog.
Leader of Birmingham City Council’s Conservative group, Robert Alden, is believed to have dismissed the proposed payment as ‘tokenistic’ and said it was hard to justify to non-council manual workers who are likely to have to pay more council tax next year.
Cllr Alden reportedly suggested it would be hard for the sector to argue that it needed more money to survive while increasing its wage bill.
National officer at trade union Unite, Jim Kennedy, told The MJ: 'The collateral damage of another horrendous blue and yellow coalition is the low paid, continually undervalued essential local government workforce.
'Even now while local government workers are on the frontline battling against COVID-19 these pitiful excuses for local government representation - no doubt from their comfortable offices or homes - decide to inflict another blow on a workforce that the public properly recognise are supporting our communities and sustaining our society.
'The recent pay offer, which equates to £1.83 a day for the lowest paid, was already insulting enough, but the actions of the Conservatives and Lib Dems in local government to block an additional payment is a disgrace. Shame on them.'
The decision by the executive advisory board comes amid LGA nervousness about its relationship with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.
Chairman of the Conservative-led LGA, Cllr James Jamieson, is understood to have privately pleaded for the sector to resist being too critical of communities secretary Robert Jenrick and suggested that lobbying should be directed at the Treasury.
The plea was made after a row broke out between ministers and the LGA earlier this year over the association’s fair funding review modelling.