COUNTY bosses have rejected a bid to raise the living standards of thousands of workers across Hampshire.

Eastleigh Borough Council and Southampton City Council have already introduced the so called “living wage”, designed to reduce poverty as the cost of living soars.

But the Tory-led county council said it would not be following suit because county workers receive a good deal already and the wage boost would cost jobs.

County leader Roy Perry said: “In short Hampshire already offers a package which is better than the living wage.

“We offer benefits which are more generous than many employers, with elements such as pension, annual leave entitlement and sick pay all above the statutory requirement.

“This means the total package on offer in Hampshire takes staff above the living wage.”

The hourly wage boost would have been £7.45, compared to current minimum wage of £6.31 an hour and would have affected more than 4,000 staff, including cleaners, care workers and catering staff.

Research by the Living Wage Foundation found that 80 per cent of employers believe it boosted the quality of work among staff and that there was a 25 per cent fall in absenteeism But a report for the employment in Hampshire County Council committee warned it would not be without costs.

It states that the £1.5m price tag of introducing it would squeeze out 71 jobs.

County council leader Roy Perry said: “The living wage would add costs to the county’s wage bill and every school in Hampshire. This would generate upward pressure on the budget when we are looking for downward pressures.

“Any increase to the council’s wage bill will mean more savings are needed across the organisation, which could lead to job losses.

“At a time of on-going financial constraint I want to be protecting people’s jobs.”

But the wage boost rejection has drawn criticism from opposition politicians and unions.

Tim Cutter, branch secretary for Hampshire Unison, said: “I think it’s disgraceful, because other local authorities have signed up to the living wage in areas where the cost of living is much lower than Hampshire.

Daily Echo:

Tim Cutter of Unison

“This will send a message that the county council does not value the contribution its staff makes.

“The old argument that it will cost jobs was disproved with the introduction of the minimum wage.”

Mr Cutter said his members were already angry because the county council failed to pass on a £250 payment from the Government to council workers earning under £21,000 after it implemented a two-year pay rise in 2010.

Lib Dem Leader Keith House said: “I am very disappointed that this idea, initially greeted with enthusiasm by all parties, has been ruled out by Hampshire Conservatives without even a discussion with its own staff.

“Evidence shows the living wage increase staff productivity and improves staff retention, reducing recruitment and training costs and saving organisations money over time, quite apart from improving quality of life and, for some, dependence on benefits.”