COUNCILLORS in Newport will tonight vote on this year's 2014/15 budget – with a 4.5 per cent rise in council tax and £10 million in cuts – amid arguments over whether low paid staff should get better pay.
Newport council Tory leader Matthew Evans has declined a call from Labour backbencher Chris Evans to support proposals in the budget for a living wage, which would see some low paid council workers get a pay rise.
Cllr Evans is expected to present his own alternative proposals for the budget tonight, details of which are being kept under wraps.
Earlier this month cabinet members decided to set aside £75,000 for the continuation of the Christmas lights for three years, if external sponsorship could not be found in time.
But other saving plans stayed in place with cabinet members recommending a 4.5 per cent increase in council tax.
The budget for 2014/15 includes proposals to increase wages for low paid workers to the level of the "living wage" - £7.65 an hour.
Currently the council has 1,600 staff earning less than the living wage, calculated by the Living Wage Foundation according to the basic cost of living in the UK.
A total of £1.04 million is likely to be put aside in 2014/15 and 2015/16 for the plan.
Chris Evans, Labour councillor for Rogerstone, said: “It’s interesting to note the Conservatives, who seem to cynically jump on every bandwagon, have been rather silent in the living wage debate.
“I’d like to challenge them to come out and support Newport Labour's pledge.”
But Cllr Matthew Evans declined, telling the Argus: “The living wage has admittedly got some benefits but it also makes your workforce less competitive.
"There’s essentially a chance of creating more unemployment by having it.”
The living wage will be introduced at the same time as a new pay and grading structure later this year.
Tonight councillors will vote on the 2014/15 budget, where £10 million of savings need to be made, and the proposed council tax rise, as well as the more indicative medium term financial plan for the next four years which can be revised as time goes on.
Overall the council aims to save £25 million over four years.
Savings for the next financial year include cutting £333,000 from the council’s IT services budget, £105,000 from the Newport Ship budget and £86,000 by closing the museum and central library one day a week.
It is also proposed to withdraw the Newport Schools Library Service, saving £40,000, and establishing a new joint venture to run property services, saving £103,000 in 2014/15.
The Argus will be covering tonight's meeting live on Twitter. Follow @ArgusDDeans and our website.