Scotland politics

Sturgeon says council deal will secure living wage

Woman holding elderly woman's hand Image copyright Thinkstock

Nicola Sturgeon has defended the funding deal for Scottish councils - and called on them to implement the Living Wage for care workers.

The first minister urged councils to accept the funding package on offer and work together in tackling low pay.

Many councils have argued that the deal and council tax freeze will force them into making "draconian cuts".

Ms Sturgeon made her plea as she addressed the SNP's first disabled members conference in Glasgow.

Scotland's councils have until 9 February to respond to the Scottish government's funding package.

On Friday, Cosla, the umbrella body for the most of the 32 councils, urged its members to reject it.

'Invaluable role'

Cosla argues that the funding package is smaller than forecast and, coupled with the government's continued council tax freeze, will force local authorities to make unacceptable cuts in jobs and services.

Ms Sturgeon, however, said the deal included funding to maintain the council tax freeze and secure pupil teacher ratios.

She said the government was also offering £250m to help with the integration of health and social care, including a commitment to pay the Living Wage of £8.25 an hour.

Image caption The SNP claimed its disabled members conference was the first of its kind in Scotland

She told the conference: "Our social care workers play an invaluable role in looking after the most vulnerable in our communities - and with an ageing population, it is more important than ever that we attract and retain the best staff by paying them a fair wage.

"Both the SNP government and local authorities have a shared aspiration to see care workers paid a living wage, and that's why we have included funding to roll it out in our funding offer to councils."

She added: "Delivering this landmark policy is a challenge for local government in the current financial circumstances - no-one is pretending otherwise. But the offer from the Scottish government will help meet that challenge.

"By accepting the local government finance settlement, the SNP and Labour can work together to take a huge leap forward in tackling low pay in Scotland - and help to build a fairer Scotland."

A Scottish Labour spokesman said: "Care workers should be paid a living wage and we will work with anyone to make that a reality.

"The best way for this to be achieved is for the Scottish government to introduce a living wage for all public sector workers. Nicola Sturgeon had the chance to do this but has voted against it five times.

"At the same time councils need to be properly funded so that services for disabled people, and others, can be properly protected. Nicola Sturgeon should explain how cutting hundreds of millions of pounds from the services the most vulnerable rely on will help deliver this."

'Deliver the changes'

Elsewhere, Scottish Labour has unveiled proposals for a Warm Homes Act to help tackle fuel poverty.

Leader Kezia Dugdale told party activists in Inverness the plan would "deliver the changes we need to see in planning and building regulations to tackle fuel poverty".

Ms Dugdale said: "No family in Scotland should have to choose between heating and eating in 2016."

She also claimed the Scottish government planned to cut the fuel poverty budget by £15m.

About 845,000 households in Scotland - 35% of the total - were classed as living in fuel poverty last year, with 9.5% living in extreme fuel poverty, according to statistics published last month.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, claimed civil liberties were being slowly eroded under the SNP.

Civil liberties

Speaking at the party's north east of Scotland regional conference, leader Willie Rennie pledged to continue to stand up to the "illiberal" SNP after May's Holyrood election.

Mr Rennie said only his party had effectively opposed the Scottish government on issues such as police stop-and-search, the abolition of corroboration and plans for an ID database.

He added: "Too often we take our civil liberties for granted and under the SNP government they have been slowly degraded.

"It has only been the effective campaigns run by the Liberal Democrats that has provided any form of opposition to their changes."

Responding to Mr Rennie, an SNP spokesman said the Lib Dems had spent five years "propping up a Tory government which is now hell-bent on scrapping human rights legislation".