Matt versus Matt: Greenwich and the Living Wage

Strange things are afoot once again at Greenwich Council and, for a change, local residents may actually benefit from a peculiar case of one-upmanship.

Early last week Matt Hartley, Conservative Councillor for Coldharbour & New Eltham and Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Greenwich and Woolwich, proposed a motion to Greenwich Council that would see it use powers granted under the Coalition Government’s Localism Act to vary business rates for local businesses that pay a Living Wage and achieve accreditation from the Living Wage Foundation.

Council notes that 21 percent of jobs in the Royal Borough of Greenwich are low-paid, according to figures compiled for the London Poverty Profile from Office of National Statistics data.

Council re-iterates its commitment to promoting the Living Wage as a means of tackling low pay in the Royal Borough.

Council notes that local authorities now have the power to reduce Business Rates from the level set nationally by the Localism Act 2011 by offering local discounts, the cost of which are funded 50 percent by central government, 30 percent by the local authority concerned and 20 percent by the Greater London Authority.

Council praises the London Borough of Brent for its innovative proposal to use these localism powers to encourage the adoption of the Living Wage by local employers.

Council therefore commits to develop and consult on a proposal for a new Greenwich Living Wage Incentive Scheme, which would see local employers that achieve accreditation by the Living Wage Foundation awarded a one-off discount on their business rates, to incentivise the adoption of the Living Wage. Consultation on these proposals will take place by July 2015.

Hartley gained some coverage for his idea from the local press with an article in the News Shopper and the council was forced to offer a quote restating their position that they were an accredited employer themselves and that they “encouraged all our private contractors to also pay the London Living Wage”.

However, Greenwich recently confessed that 35% of employees at wholly-owned council subsidiaries like GS Plus are currently paid less than the London Living Wage, far more than the 20% currently paid below this level in private employment.

Motions at Greenwich Council are normally debated at length and take the form of the ruling side putting in a vote of thanks for the NHS or latest pet cause, the state of national government or even demanding the Government change something that the council have no control over. The opposition usually submit something that has some merit and can be actioned locally which is then amended by the ruling group so that only the first few words remain – “This council applauds/resolves/congratulates, etc.

It’s not entirely surprising that Hartley, with a background in local credit unions, would make such a brazen pitch far to the left of the current local Labour leadership. With a motion like this, how could they possibly respond without losing face? In more normal times there would be some argument about national politics, the motion would be amended beyond recognition and then the proposals would be quietly adopted at a later date. Witness the carnage over Conservative proposals for a local clinic in Eltham to ease pressures on local NHS services from 2013 and the announcement of an Eltham Community Hospital the following year.

With only 100 days to go until the General Election these aren’t normal times.

Fast forward a week and step forward Matt Pennycook, Labour Councillor for Greenwich West and Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Greenwich & Woolwich. Pennycook’s previous job at the Resolution Foundation think-tank has led him to be heard extolling the virtues of a living wage, and the London Living Wage, many times on the national media. I can only imagine the actions of his local leadership on wages have been a constant source of embarrassment until recently.

For a council that previously said it couldn’t vary business rates to incentivise job creation, and didn’t believe in the Localism Act unless it could see some advantage for itself, it’s a massive change in stance.

This isn’t the first time that the two Matts have been battling it out over the same causes. Much the same thing happened in the autumn with Hartley’s Sort it, SouthEastern campaign and Pennycook’s sudden recollection that there may be an issue with local transport he could have had some influence over as a local councillor for the last four years.

I wonder how they’ll all handle this at Wednesday’s council meeting? Come along and see for yourself – the show starts at 7pm at Woolwich Town Hall.

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  1. Barbara

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