Southwark Council’s finance chief calls for government to reconsider public sector pay freeze

Katherine Johnston (03 December, 2020)

'These members of staff have been true public servants – putting residents first, working all hours and weekends, some in fear for their own health, and all in the context of a global health crisis'

8116The council's offices on Tooley Street

The public sector pay freeze has been criticised by Southwark Council’s finance chief, who says low-paid public sector workers have put their own health on the line during the pandemic.

Councillor Rebecca Lury, Tooley Street’s cabinet member for finance and resources,  has warned that on top of wage stagnation local authorities  had lost nearly 60p in every pound provided before 2010 due to austerity as spending skyrockets due to the pandemic.  As the News has reported, the council is now facing a £12m funding shortfall.

She said the pay freeze would unfairly target public servants while profit-making businesses are being bailed out. “Our council is made up of thousands of front-line key workers,” Cllr Lury said.

“We are talking about carers, officers who are helping homeless people get a roof over their head each day, those working tirelessly to keep streets clean, managing the parks that are the only green space for some Londoners, and looking after families in crisis.

“These members of staff have been true public servants – putting residents first, working all hours and weekends, some in fear for their own health, and all in the context of a global health crisis. 

“And it appears to be a truly thankless task.  While the government bails out large, multi-million pound chain businesses, those same members of council staff, the lowest paid workers, have to stomach what amounts to a pay cut, after years of pay freezes already. How is that fair?”

Since late March, the council’s Southwark Emergency Support Scheme has received nearly 8,000 applications for financial help due to the pandemic.  The council has also housed nearly 800 rough sleepers – nearly all in the borough – with 700 moved into longer term housing.

The local authority has also helped 5,000 households in financial difficulties cover the cost of food, fuel and other basic essentials – at a cost of £1.3 million.

A further million has been ploughed into the Southwark Community Hub; a partnership between Southwark Council, the local NHS and GP surgeries, charities and community and volunteer groups to run its COVID-19 support.  This is expected to continue into 2021, with a provisional budget totalling £3.2 million for 2020-21.

Cllr Lury added: “Without recognition of the work that local authorities do, they will continue to struggle, resources will dwindle and cuts will have to be made to vital services across the country.

“I would ask the government to reconsider, support front-line workers and save the services we depend on.”

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