Council leaders make increased 5 per cent pay offer amid ongoing strikes

Council workers are to be offered an overall 5 per cent pay increase in a last-ditch bid to avoid crippling strikes spreading across Scotland.

It came as trade union leaders earlier told The Scotsman that strike dates for thousands of workers in schools and nurseries will be announced in the coming days unless a “significantly” better pay offer is tabled.

Johanna Baxter, head of local government at Unison, said schools would be forced to shut and its members were prepared for "significant and extensive action”.

Cosla, the council umbrella body, confirmed an improved offer has now been put on the table.

Rubbish has been piling up beside bins in Edinburgh

Councillor Katie Hagmann, its resources spokesman, said the offer “raises the overall value to 5 per cent and in addition raises the Scottish local government living wage to £10.50”.

Rubbish is piling up in the streets of Edinburgh after cleansing workers began a strike that is due to last until the end of the busy festival season.

Talks are expected to take place on how the Cosla pay increase will be distributed, with lower-paid workers potentially receiving a bigger rise, perhaps 8 or 9 per cent, while higher-paid staff would get a smaller increase.

Cosla had previously upped its original 2 per cent offer to 3.5 per cent after the Scottish Government came up with extra cash to help fund a pay increase.

However, local authority workers rejected this, with the GMB, Unite and Unison trade unions launching a co-ordinated campaign in response.

Waste workers in 14 councils across Scotland are due to strike later this month.

It is understood council leaders accept they will have to find more money from their own budgets, but will also seek talks with the Government to press for further support and increased flexibility in how they can use their finances.

One insider said: “It was agreed to put forward 5 per cent to the trade unions and see if that can help move the situation.

"We’re going to have to find a bit more, but we’ve also asked that we continue our discussion with the Deputy First Minister [John Swinney] to look at flexibility about things like how we finance debt and using the council’s allocated grant more flexibly."

They said: “It’s a serious offer and I don’t know what will happen if [the unions] don’t accept it. I don’t think there is wriggle room after this for anybody unless the Government come forward with new plans.”

It is understood that although Labour and the SNP put forward separate motions at the Cosla meeting and the SNP one was passed, both proposed 5 per cent.

The insider said the only difference was the language about making further representations to the Government.

Alison Maclean, Unite industrial officer, said: "It has taken Cosla over five months to make an offer which we can take to our members for consideration.

"While the 5 per cent offer is an improvement, it is important to emphasise that it comes at a time when broader inflation has now hit a 40-year high at 12.3 per cent.

"Unite's local government committee will urgently consider this latest offer. At this juncture the strikes for next week continue as planned.”

GMB Scotland senior organiser Keir Greenaway said: "The latest proposals will be considered by our local government committee, but the principle of a flat rate award is a key demand of the trade union pay claim.

"For any offer to be deemed worthy of our members' full consultation, the biggest cash increases must go to the lowest paid."

Speaking to The Scotsman before Cosla’s latest offer, Ms Baxter accused it and the Government of failing to grasp “the gravity of this situation”.

She said: “Unless and until we have a significantly improved offer that we can put to our members, then strike action will take place.

"Notices of action for our members working in schools and education will be announced in the coming days, and that is a very significant number of members that would then join picket lines in local authorities across the country.”

Ms Baxter said Unison’s mandate for strike action covers more than 13,000 workers, the vast majority of whom work in schools and early years.

She said: "Schools would close. There are more Unison members working in schools than there are of any other union in local government, and that includes the teachers.

"Without the janitors, the cleaners, the caterers, the support assistants, the special needs assistants, schools will not be able to operate.”

Ms Baxter said Unison’s members were frustrated by what they see as “political games” between Cosla and the Government.

Edinburgh City Council leader Cammy Day said: “Having pushed hard for a special Cosla meeting to be convened this week, I’m pleased that positive progress we’ve made today.

"A formal offer has now been made to trade unions, which I hope will be considered.

“We need to continue to press the Scottish Government for more flexibility in the use of council resources and fairer funding to sustain services.

“In the meantime, I would urge everyone to continue following our advice on how to deal with your waste safely and responsibly to help us manage the impact of the strike action.

"Please check the dedicated pages on our website and keep an eye on our social media channels, where we’ll be posting the most up-to-date information.”

SNP Cosla group leader Dougie Reid described the later offer as a “very welcome breakthrough”.

He said: “The increasing financial crisis we are seeing with the cost of living is also increasing pressure on hard-pressed workers and their families.

"To make an offer short of 5 per cent was not credible and SNP leaders have thankfully today secured a mandate to make an immediate offer of 5 per cent.”

Richard Kerley, professor of management at Queen Margaret University and an authority on local government, said a "long-term trend has been for local government to receive a lower proportion of settlement than other aspects of public services here, and that's gradually whittled away at what discretion local government has".

He said the impact of the cost-of-living crisis could be “disruptive for more than just this year”.

SNP local government secretary Shona Robison said: “This increased pay offer to local government workers is a welcome step forward and has been supported by the Scottish Government’s commitment of an additional £140 million for council workers' pay on a recurring basis.

“Throughout discussions, despite ministers having no formal role in the pay negotiations between councils and their employees, we have sought to work collaboratively with Cosla while providing full transparency around our financial position.

“All areas of the public sector are having to make challenging savings to stay within existing budgets. The UK Government has provided no further funding for these pressures with last year’s Spending Review, not taking account of the levels of pay uplift needed or the wider effects of inflation.

"Nevertheless, we have sought to support a meaningful revised offer in the face of the cost emergency.”

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