Back-Pay Bill Could Hit Council Services

Back-pay claims for thousands of under-paid women workers could land Cardiff council with a bill of up to £30m. The authority could even be forced to delay the opening of the city’s new central library and other major projects if pleas to the Welsh Assembly Government to borrow money to meet the huge bill fall on deaf ears.

The extent of the potential financial burden has been revealed to the council’s executive as talks on job evaluation between the authority and unions, intended to equalise pay and conditions, continue.

The council faces having to make the pay-out to low-paid, mainly female, staff because they have been underpaid for many years in comparison to workers in other council jobs. If the council does not reach a settlement it could face legal action.

Unions fear that without permission to borrow there could be big job cuts in the pipeline. Councillor Mark Stephens, Cardiff council executive member for finance, said finding the money could hit other services. He said: “We don’t have significant balances – they are under £10m – so there are two ways to fund something like this which goes back to the 1970s.

“The first is through additional borrowing, with the money being paid back over years or suspending our capital programme for a year. This would hit work on areas like roads but could also hit bigger schemes covering waste management, schools and even library schemes. If the option of delaying capital programme had to be taken it could mean the authority not being able to open the new central library.”

Council leader Rodney Berman, questioned by Labour’s deputy leader Sophie Howe, said there was a potential bill of up to £30m, equivalent to 30 per cent on council tax. So far only two local authorities have made the pay-outs to staff, one of which, Neath Port Talbot, forked out about £8m in compensation.

Lynda Webb-Thornton, of Unison, the biggest union at Cardiff council, said she backed the council’s approach to the Welsh Assembly Government to borrow money to meet the costs. “The alternative is to make huge cuts in public services the like of which we have not seen and/or increase council taxes vastly.

“We hope the Welsh Assembly Government will warm to the proposals for permission to borrow in the interests of public services. The payment of back-pay will bring fairness particularly to low-paid workers, particularly women in cleaning and catering jobs.”