On the face of it, a proposal by Hampshire County Council to pay all of its staff at least the so-called Living Wage sounds reasonable.

With the legal minimum wage set at £6.31 per hour, the increase of £1.14 will not move any of the 4,000 staff it would affect into a champagne lifestyle, but will make life a little easier.

But, as this paper reported earlier in the week, such a move would cost the tax-payer some £1.5m a year and mean the loss of 90 jobs at the council. A high price to pay, or a necessary sacrifice?

With Southampton City Council and other local authorities also considering such a rise for the lowest paid among their staff, the issue is not confined to County Council employees.

It would be churlish not to welcome such measures for the lowest paid, and yet I am concerned at the possible inequity of such a move.

In short, it is all well and good for conscience-pricked councillors to spend public money on raising the salaries of their employees, but they do so at the expense of not just council coffers and some of the jobs of those they claim to be setting out to assist, but also the low-paid in the private sector who fund their very existence.

It will be somewhat galling for the low paid in private companies who struggle to meet their council tax demands to know more of their money is being used to raise the pay of civil servants who already enjoy far better terms, conditions and pensions than they do. Services being cut or paired back to fund such rises will also strike tax-payers as unfair.

There is an argument, and one I can see the value of, that by raising public wages higher not only does this extra cash flush through the local economy as a whole, it sets a strong example to the private sector to follow suit. Whether private employers will react to such measures will depend, I suspect, on if the recovery gathers speed and there is a shortage of workers. That day, I fear, is some way off yet.

And then there is the issue of council services that have been out-sourced to the private sector – leisure, welfare – where staffs are paid the minimum wage. Quite how employees and indeed unions will react to such a diversity of pay levels waits to be understood.

When the economic crisis struck one of the areas that came under public scrutiny was the disparity between the public and private sectors. How or why should those working for private companies continue to fund a higher level of pay and conditions for those in the public sector? There was a begrudging understanding in the public sector that the gap needed to be shortened. However that was then.

The financial crisis appears to be easing, and it hasn’t taken local authorities long it seems to begin to consider ways of widening the gap once more.