MAYOR ON WEDNESDAY: Cash could have saved jobs

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LAST week I explained how the £120,000 a year savings from the overall budget for councillors is being made.

I said more than £55,000 of it is already being saved this year and should not be put down to the change from a Mayoral system to a committee system.

I also welcomed the fact that the council is going to be making a saving of £120,000 out of this budget especially when they will need to make savings of up to £25million over the next four years.

It has now transpired, following a meeting of the full council on Thursday evening, that the £120,000 will be put into a reserve budget to fund the implementation of a “Living Wage” should it be introduced later in the year.

The Living Wage is something that was introduced into Newcastle Council last year and it is basically a pay rise for the lowest paid member of staff to bring them up to a level above the minimum wage.

We had a brief debate in Cabinet about the viability of introducing it to Hartlepool at the time but it was quickly dismissed as being cost prohibitive because of the scale of savings we needed to make. It now looks to be very much back on the agenda.

I don’t have a problem with the principle of a Living Wage particularly when the Government are capping annual pay rises at 1 per cent, however the fact is that there will be hundreds of jobs that will have to go because of the sheer scale of cuts we need to make and it can’t be right to concentrate of giving pay rises to a few, no matter how much they are currently paid, at the expense of other people being made redundant.

We were told by the local Labour Party that getting rid of the Mayoral position will save the council £1million over 10 years.

The decision that they made at council on Thursday means we won’t actually save a penny because the money will now be spent giving people a pay rise and the £25million deficit will remain exactly the same.

It’s a pity they weren’t more up front about their intentions in the first place.

I’m not bitter in any way about the result of the referendum, that’s politics.

What does concern me though is the financial challenge that the council faces over the coming months and years. Radical changes will have to happen just to keep our heads above water.

The Living Wage is a political ideology and one we simply cannot afford to fund. £120.000 would save between eight and 10 jobs of the lowest paid staff if the money is put towards the £25million deficit and I’d be a lot more comfortable in the knowledge that the abolition of the Mayoral position resulted in the protection of people’s jobs rather than a few getting a pay rise at the expense of others.

l Thank you to all those households who signed up for the community collective energy switching scheme.

There were 1,504 households who have signed up in Hartlepool which is a good number for our first attempt.

We are in the scheme with 52 other local authorities and three housing associations which gave us numbers of over 166,000 households.

This was the highest ever local authority-driven contract and it went to auction early last week.

There were three winners of the auction – British Gas, Scottish Power and Sainsbury Energy (supplied by British Gas) – and the contract is split as follows:

Sainsbury Energy won the dual fuel online and paper monthly direct debit accounts;

Scottish Power won the electricity only online and paper monthly direct debit accounts; and

British Gas won the dual fuel and electricity only pre-pay meter contracts.

What happens now is that every household that has signed up will be sent an offer letter or email some time within the next week.

There is absolutely no obligation to take the offer but if it is a better deal than the one you are currently on, there will be simple instructions on how to accept the offer.

Everything else will then be taken care of and you won’t have the usual hassle of having to change suppliers yourself.

If you are already with the supplier that has won your contract, you will be able to change to the new tariff if it going to be cheaper which is another huge advantage as most supplier only provide the best deals to new customers. I’m confident that the vast majority of people will get a better deal for their energy and will be pleased with the outcome.

There will be another opportunity for people to sign up to the collective energy switch scheme in six or 12 month’s time (more likely six) when the council will be joining the next group of local authorities to take a collective contract to auction.

As I’ve said before, the more people sign up, the better deal we will get so if you’ve missed out this time around, mark it up on your calendar now for the next one.