COUNTY councillors have been urged to follow their Town Hall counterparts in Oxford by introducing a “living wage” for staff.
At £7.45 per hour, the living wage is higher than the national minimum wage, currently £6.19, and is calculated based on the cost of living in a specific area of the country.
At the moment, Oxford City Council is the only local authority in Oxfordshire which has been given a living wage accreditation by paying its employees at least £8.01 an hour.
On Wednesday the issue was considered by the county council’s remunerations committee.
Committee member Roy Darke, a Labour county councillor, said: “For me it is an important matter of principle and you can see that in the fact that the city council has introduced it not only for its own staff but also for its contractors.
“The issue is that there are some incredibly big contracts which the county council has in relation to providing social care, with staff who are on low wages.
“But it ought to be seriously considered. The cost of living in Oxford and Oxfordshire is high compared to the rest of the country, so there is some importance in having this debate.”
After discussing the issue, the remunerations committee instructed council officers to carry out research into the issue and report back to them.
One of the issues raised was how the living wage would work with academy schools, which are independent of the county council.
Committee chairman Ian Hudspeth, who is also the leader of the county council, expressed concern about what would happen as more schools became academies and so out of reach of any potential living wage policy.
Speaking after the meeting, he said: “We have got to find out the full details and how it would affect the council.
“Once we have got those details we can make a more considered view about whether we are in a position to implement it, bearing in mind it is taxpayers’ money.”
The discussions have been welcomed by the Living Wage Foundation. Communications officer Sarah Vero said: “We welcome the news that Oxfordshire County Council is considering the living wage.
“The living wage is a useful tool for councils to help tackle in-work poverty and it offers a range of business benefits including reduced absenteeism, lower turnover of staff and increased productivity.
“The living wage enjoys cross-party support, with backing from senior Conservatives including Boris Johnson and Iain Duncan Smith, as well as Labour Party leader Ed Miliband.”
Unison senior branch officer Barbara Harper said the union was “in discussion” with the authority about the potential introduction of the benchmark.
She said: “We would view anything favourable on the subject of the living wage as a good thing, and we’re talking to Oxfordshire County Council about it.”
The city council’s leader Bob Price, who recently celebrated his authority’s receipt of official living wage accreditation, was “delighted” the county council was considering its introduction.
He said: “We need to make sure workers in low-paid jobs are not put at a disadvantage by the fact they live in a high-cost area.”