Re-open teachers' settlement

15th May 2009 at 01:00
Councillor calls for pay freeze instead of job cuts to help get finances back on track

Scotland's leading finance figure in local government, who has called for a public sector pay freeze, has told The TESS he wants to re-open the three-year teachers' pay settlement.

Gordon Matheson, the treasurer of Glasgow City Council, Scotland's largest local authority, has urged the Scottish Government to support his view. It is a signatory to the tripartite deal involving the unions and authorities, which is worth an average 2.4 per cent pay increase a year and is not due to run out until March 2011.

Councillor Matheson, a former education convener in Glasgow, told the parliamentary finance committee's budget inquiry on Tuesday that a pay freeze for all those earning above the council's "living wage" of pound;7 an hour would save it pound;21 million. The alternative would be to sacrifice jobs and services.

Finance Secretary John Swinney is understood to have told public sector bodies that they should assume a cash standstill from 2010 to 2013. That would mean a shortfall of pound;68m for Glasgow in 2010-11 alone, the council estimates.

Talking to The TESS, Councillor Matheson said: "There's been the minor matter of a bank crisis and a recession since the teachers' agreement took place.

"We have inflation very low, or even negative inflation. People who are in a job are enjoying lower interest rates, lower mortgages. Inflation is downwards.

"There's no question that we all need to take our share of the pain in order to get the public finances into some shape.

"It would be illogical not to include teachers in a pay freeze."

But his call was dismissed out of hand by the Educational Institute of Scotland and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.

Drew Morrice, assistant secretary of the EIS, said: "Councillor Matheson is seeking to interfere with a collective bargain, properly struck. This time last year, when it looked as if teachers could be disadvantaged by the rate of inflation running ahead of the settlement, there was no clarion call from Councillor Matheson to re-visit it."

Mr Morrice said all the parties could have agreed a "re-opener" clause, triggered by changing economic circumstances, which would bring the parties back to the negotiating table. That had been a feature of the previous four-year deal, but was not in the current agreement.

Pat Watters, president of Cosla and a fellow Labour councillor, is adamant that it would not be bounced into a decision by any one authority.

A spokesman said: "Our collective position will be decided after consulting all our member councils and will reflect their views. We have just completed a pay round that came into effect on April 1, and it is still very early days in terms of the 2010 deal."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "This Government is committed to ensuring that public sector pay increases in Scotland remain affordable and sustainable. This is a realistic approach in the current financial climate. Given the tightest financial settlement provided to any Scottish administration and the difficult economic conditions and uncertainties, it will continue to be necessary for a tight grip on pay increases to be maintained.

"Across a number of areas of the public sector there are pay deals in place that transcend this particular year, such as for teachers, which would make a pay freeze across the public sector highly impractical."

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