Labour accuses Ashfield Independents of expecting council staff to 'pay bills with bags of claps'
Labour councillors have accused Ashfield District Council leaders of freezing staff wages to pay for a Council Tax freeze.
The Labour Group abstained on a vote to freeze what householders will pay the authority this year – saying a move to back the proposal would have impacted on the wages of the council’s key workers.
In a statement after Thursday’s Council Tax setting meeting, the group accused council leader Coun Jason Zadrozny of blaming the Government for the pay freeze and described it as ‘a political move’ – insisting a pay rise could be ‘easily achieved if the will was there’.
Speaking during the meeting, Coun Lauren Mitchell said: “It was only last month that this council passed a motion thanking all the staff at Ashfield District Council for their hard work, particularly since the start of the pandemic, but freezing their pay seems a strange way to thank them.
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“If this council is happy to put a cap on its staff’s wages, then it’s no better than the Tory Government who set out a budget that saw a pay freeze for 2.6 million frontline
“Myself and Coun (Keir) Morrison would love to be able to vote in favour of a Council Tax freeze for our residents, but we aren’t prepared to do it if it means freezing public sector pay. That is why we are abstaining.”
Her Labour colleague, Coun Morrison, said the freeze would hit council workers’ in the pocket.
“The Ashfield Independents have rightly heaped praise on key workers throughout the pandemic,” he said.
“However, now they have refused to give the majority of council key workers a pay rise in the budget. It is bewildering that the political leadership of ADC are now expecting the staff to pay bills with bags of claps”.
However, Coun Zadrozny responded to the claims and said the Labour Group had ‘misunderstood’ what they were voting for.
“Our Council Tax setting had no link to staff wages – the fact is, this is not our decision. Its inclusion as a freeze is based on what the Government has instructed for local councils.
"It is negotiated nationally by the Government and unions – local councils are legally not allowed to alter that process,” he said.
Coun Zadrozny has previously thanked council workers for going ‘above and beyond’ during the pandemic and says the council ‘fully recognises’ their tireless efforts.
“We are working on a package of additional benefits, such as the extra time we gave people off at Christmas,” he said.
“Our most recent staff survey shows the highest levels of staff satisfaction ever and the lowest levels of absence too, so it's clear we are moving in the right direction.
“I am sorry to say that neither Labour nor the Conservatives supported the budget that included a council tax freeze, a new leisure centre for Kirkby, and extra swimming pool for Hucknall, £1.8million of park improvements and the spending of the accelerated Towns Fund.
"What was more disappointing that they chose not to make any amendments or submit an alternative budget - this means in reality, they knew it was a fantastic budget for the residents, they just wanted to find something to oppose for the sake of it - I think that's a shame and just not constructive.”