Mark Whitehead 05 April 2018

The gender pay gap: local government's national perspective

Local government came out relatively well in the gender pay gap figures published by the Government this week - on average the difference between men and women's pay was less than half that in the rest of the economy.

And within the sector there was wide variation. Many councils reported a 'negative pay gap', meaning they pay women more than men on average.

But in line with the national picture, most paid their male employees more than women, though this was based on hourly pay rates for all employees, not comparisons between similar jobs or work of equal value.

Here, LocalGov presents a round-up from councils around the country, with some pointers to the reasons for gender pay gaps in Britain's local authorities and what they are planning to do about it.

Women get ahead at Three Rivers

Three Rivers based in Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire, is among the large number of councils bucking the trend by paying women more than men - the district council reported a 'negative gender pay gap' with a mean average of 42%.

It explains the difference by the fact that a large number of men work in refuse collection on relatively lower pay while women occupy several senior managerial roles.

Three Rivers is among a third of all the councils nationwide which pay women more than men according to the data published by the Government Equalities Office.

A spokesperson at Three Rivers told LocalGov the heads of finance, housing, HR and IT were among highly-placed women managers as well as the council leader and chair.

'We've come out of it quite well because of the large male workforce in refuse collection,' she said. 'They are employed by us because we haven't outsourced the service like other councils.

'Added to that we have many women working here in senior positions, so it looks as if we pay women really well in comparison.'

'We are proud of our policy of gender equality and cultural diversity which seems to be working.'

Much more to do, say unions

The data gathered by the Government shows more needs to be done to close the gender pay gap, unions warned.

The TUC said action should be taken to make sure women in low-paid roles are paid more and given better opportunities to progress.

Unison's head of local government Heather Wakefield said: 'It’s clear that some councils have a big gender pay gap problem.

'It’s vital that employers have equal pay and grading structures in place, and take proactive action to redress these imbalances.

'Councils need to do more to open up jobs at all levels to women – for example by encouraging flexible, job-sharing and part-time working in senior jobs, and by reinforcing training and development opportunities for women.'

A spokesperson for the TUC representing most of the UK's unions said: 'The reporting requirements are a step forward, but more is needed.

'Employers should have to publish an explanation of why they have a gender pay gap - and an action plan to close it.

'The public sector can lead the way in closing the gender pay gap. The government should act to improve the pay and quality of jobs that are mainly done by women, such as childcare and social care.

'And ministers should increase opportunities for women to get into better paid jobs through how they allocate apprenticeship funding and public sector contracts.'

Lancaster keeps services in-house

Keeping services with a majority of lower-paid women in-house is highlighted as a major factor for the gender pay gap at Lancaster City Council.

Figures provided for the Government survey show the council pays its male employees a mean average of 4% more than females, rising to 15% as measured by the more representative median.

A report by chief executive Susan Parsonage underlines that the council has retained its in-house cleaning team made up primarily of women staff who are in the lowest-paid quarter of employees.

At the same time the council has kept its housing stock and retained its in-house repairs and maintenance and refuse collection.

This means a high proportion of the workforce - 38% - comprises mainly male manual and skilled tradespeople who are more likely to be given extra allowances including standby and callout pay due to the nature of their duties.

The report says the council carried out a comprehensive pay and grading review in 2010 to ensure men and women were paid the same for work of equal value.

It highlights that the council makes a range of flexible working arrangements available to all staff and encourages women to take up places on its apprenticeship scheme.

Equal opportunities in Birmingham

The UK's biggest local authority says its commitment to equality of opportunity for all groups will help provide the best services for residents.

In its official report Birmingham City Council says it prides itself on a workforce that reflects the diversity of the city.

Publishing its pay gap figures is 'just a part of what we do' according to the report by interim chief executive Stella Manzie.

Nevertheless 'we will look at ways we can improve opportunities and make commitments to close the gender pay gap,' she says in the introduction to the report.

Birmingham pays women 9.1% less than men on the mean average figure, explained by the predominance of females in lower-skilled part-time roles.

The report says the gap would shrink to 3.5% if these employees were excluded from the survey.

Further, it says if part-time roles alone are considered, women earn 2.3% more than men.

The council outlines a range of policies to ensure equal opportunities for all including extra support for women returning to work following maternity or adoption leave.

Flexible working at Tonbridge & Malling

The large number of women attracted to administrative jobs with flexible working is highlighted as a reason for a 23.9% gender pay gap at Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council in Kent.

Director of central services and monitoring officer Adrian Stanfield stressed that the figure was not a measure of equal pay which identifies differences in rates for men and women who carry out similar jobs or work of equal value.

The council has a long standing commitment to equal pay, he said, enshrined in its job evaluation system.

On the date its figures were compiled the council had 92 male and 162 female employees.

There were similar numbers of male to female employees in the top half according to pay rates, but in the lowest paid half there were more females.

'The positions in the lower quartiles are now largely administrative roles that have historically attracted more female applicants,' Mr Stanfield said, 'who, during recruitment campaigns, frequently cite the council’s commitment to flexible working as a factor that has attracted them to apply for the post.

He added: 'There is always more we can do and the borough council continues to monitor the detail of its pay gap figures.

'We will take action where appropriate to address the average difference in pay.'

Salford: equal opportunities for all

Figures provided by Salford suggest its 14.5% gender pay gap is at least partly explained by the disproportionate number of women in lower-paid jobs.

In the lowest-paid quarter of the workforce there are 84% women and 16% men, while in the highest-paid quarter there are 59% women and 41% men.

Almost 70% of the 3,300-strong workforce is female, but among part-time workers only one in ten are male.

The council's chief executive Jim Taylor and John Ferguson, lead member for workforce and industrial relations say in the report's introduction: 'We will continue to offer a wide range of flexible working arrangements across the workforce to ensure our employees have a positive work/life balance and continue to invest in ‘growing our own’ and developing our workforce at all levels to ensure talented people can progress and achieve their potential.'

In the 'next steps' section of the report the council says it will 'continue to appoint and develop people on merit regardless of their gender or other factors covered by the Equality Act 2010'.

It pledges to 'develop the workforce at all levels to make sure talented people can progress into the most senior roles and promote a positive work/life balance through offering flexible working options to all employees at all levels'.

West Oxfordshire's work/life balance

New polices to encourage a supportive working environment and work-life balance could help in reducing the gender pay gap, according to West Oxfordshire DC.

Chief financial officer Jenny Poole said nearly half the council's workforce was mainly female and many chose to work for the council because of its family-friendly employment policies.

She said nearly half of female employees work part-time compared with just 15% of men, many in administration and customer service roles in the lower pay groups.

'We are confident that the council has a pay strategy and evaluation scheme that is compliant with equal pay and that men and women are paid equally for doing equivalent jobs across the business.

'However, we acknowledge that the pay gap between genders needs further work to address any remaining imbalance within the organisation.'

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