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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 January 2006, 15:51 GMT
Councils issue equal pay warning
Equal pay poster
Some authorities say there could be an impact on council tax
Scotland's 32 councils have told Holyrood they face a compensation bill of up to 560m for implementing an equal pay agreement.

They want Scottish Executive help with the cost of addressing pay imbalances affecting female workers. The executive said pay was a matter for councils.

Umbrella body Cosla said it also faced a 200m bill in bringing manual and office workers' pay into line.

Councils said the bills could impact on efforts to keep tax rises down.

Six years ago, councils sought to face up to the issue of equal pay for women by regrading all council workers and introducing a completely new pay and conditions structure.

Local government is not in a strong position to be able to deal with the extra costs
Cosla spokesman

However, it has been up to individual councils to implement the national framework in agreement with unions.

Concerns have been raised about some workers losing out, with bonuses and overtime lost.

Some councils have reached compensation deals with their workers. In Glasgow, this has cost 37m, in North Lanarkshire the bill has been estimated at 23m, while in Fife it has been 8m.

More resources

Cosla president Pat Watters told MSPs on the finance committee it was impossible to fund that without more resources from the Scottish Executive.

Some councils have been estimating that it will add more than 80 a year to the average council tax bill.

However, MSPs on the committee said the councils should have seen the equal pay issue coming and they argued that some of the funding should come from efficiency savings and using up reserves.

Whatever they decide we consider it crucial that local authorities strike a balance between what is fair both for the staff concerned and council tax payer
Scottish Executive spokeswoman

Glasgow City Council, Scotland's biggest local authority employer, said it was committed to keeping its increase at about the level of inflation.

A spokesman said: "We have no intention of making council tax payers bear the brunt of any deal."

However, Cosla has warned that the real impact of equal pay could not be considered in isolation.

A spokesman said: "Councils are already operating on extremely tight budgets and, due to a number of factors, a substantial funding gap to local government already exists.

John Swinney
John Swinney said council tax payers must be protected

"Therefore, local government is not in a strong position to be able to deal with the extra costs associated with equal pay without any repercussions and this is despite the considerable efforts councils have taken to alleviate the financial burdens enforced on them."

An executive spokeswoman said pay and conditions of local government staff was a matter for local authorities.

She added: "The executive was not involved in the negotiations between the local authority employers and the unions which resulted in the single status pay agreement in 1999.

"Whatever they decide we consider it crucial that local authorities strike a balance between what is fair both for the staff concerned and council tax payers."

She said discussions with Cosla on a range of local government finance matters were continuing.

However, Scottish National Party finance spokesman John Swinney said: "The equal pay gap is a major financial problem in local authority finance and unless a credible agreement can be put in place by the executive and Cosla council tax payers will face yet more punishment.

"Instead of foghorn diplomacy from the executive, some dialogue is required to resolve this massive gap and protect council tax payers."

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