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Brighton and Hove firms split over living wage campaign
Business owners across Brighton and Hove are divided over a campaign for a living wage.
Brighton and Hove Chamber of Commerce will launch a two-year campaign for a living wage in August. It will appoint a campaign manager to run the operation, who will be paid £23,500 per annum pro rata for 21 hours per week.
The campaign will aim to get firms to sign up to a living wage of £7.20 per hour for their employees. The minimum wage for workers aged 21 or over is £6.08 an hour. Brighton and Hove City Council, Brighton and Hove Bus Company and Brighton and Hove Albion have already joined the campaign.
But opponents say the move is unenforceable. Julia Chanteray, chamber president, said: “The Brighton and Hove brand is at the centre of many discussions at the moment, not least because it depends on – and is a major boost to – the city’s businesses.
“The fact that the Brighton and Hove Chamber of Commerce is leading the campaign to make a voluntary Living Wage of £7.20 per hour a reality in the city, with the full support of our hundreds of business members, shows just how forward thinking our business community is and enhances the city brand.”
Roger French, boss at the bus company, said the living wage would make the city more attractive to workers. He said: “I think we need to make sure we are giving a quality service in everything we do across the city. Part of this is employing people on a wage which befits their needs. This will drive up standards in the city.”
Claire Ottewell, chairwoman of the Tourism Alliance, which represents hoteliers, restaurateurs and attraction operators in the city, said she has grave concerns over the living wage. She said: “Somehow it seems to be largely ignored that the city's economy is dependent on a thriving tourism economy.
“Without this would so many people want to live here, students wish to study here and conferences take place here? The chamber is largely comprised of sole traders who will not be affected by the living wage. The economics simply do not stack up to make this a viable reality. For one of my medium sized members the introduction would mean a hike of more than £100,000 per annum in wages.
“I am not sure those signed up have done the maths. For the average micro business employing ten people the wage bill is going to increase about £20,000 per annum. Can businesses really afford this in this climate?”
Roger Marlowe, owner of Paskins Hotel in Charlotte Street, said increasing wage costs in the city could lead to staff being laid off.
He said: “The alarming thought of an individual city promoting an inflated wage is that it is easily paid by the public services and the larger companies whose wage bills are mainly for better qualified and paid employees. “The adoption of higher minimum wages may well create a shortage of labour amongst those more marginal businesses employing lots of unqualified staff.”
Simon Fanshawe, former chairman of the Brighton and Hove Economic Partnership, said the real challenge is to meet the expectations of high earners.
He said: “It might seem odd in the current climate but a huge issue for Brighton and Hove is us losing out on some of the best people because we do not have the higher paid jobs they are looking for. “We need that to stimulate growth. When the minimum wage was introduced it worked because it was a national initiative. No one would argue that everyone has the right to a decent wage but how would this work in practice? How would you enforce it?”
The chamber of commerce will host the annual State of the City debate tomorrow at the Sallis Benney Theatre in Grand Parade, Brighton.