Bromley is an outer London Borough to the south-east of the city and here is a guest blog from local resident Pam Remon (member of My Fair London and the Bromley Income Equality Group)
On the evening of Monday 12th November I went along to a full meeting of Bromley Council to ask the following question that I had pre-submitted;
"The Equality Trust website tells us that closing the income gap between rich and poor is good for everybody. So, will Bromley Council reconsider setting up a Fairness Commission in the light of the high rate of pay for the Bromley executives and, also agree to pay the London Living Wage for its directly-employed and contractor-employed low paid workers. Such fairness policies (as adopted in some other London Boroughs) would result in more fairness within Bromley Borough's pay structure and, so, be beneficial to all Bromley residents"
It was very daunting as the large room looked like a Court room but I did have a colleague from My Fair London (MFL) with me (thank you John Courtneidge). I was given my place on the main floor and John sat in the gallery which was also full of very excited trade union members (there was to be a vote on national/local pay bargaining that evening as well). When all were settled there commenced the very formal entry of the Mayor (in full regalia) with the Chief Executive followed by the 50-60 or so Councillors.
When it was time for me to present my question I was asked to move to the centre of the room to a chair with a microphone. I then presented my question. I felt very calm and confident as I had fully researched the material. And I had a lot of support with claps and cheers from the gallery! The answer I received from the Councillor responsible for pay policy was extremely convoluted and impossible to decipher on the spot but it was obviously negative. It received lots of boos from the gallery. I was then asked to give my return question:
“That’s all very well but that does NOT address the issue of FAIRNESS! As many London Boroughs are beginning to address the inequalities in their pay structures do you think it FAIR that the highest paid member of Bromley Council should be earning £97 per hour for a 40 hour week and the lowest paid worker should be earning £7 per hour for a 40 hour week?"
This question had a huge impact on the Councillors. I could clearly see the shock on their faces and the gallery sort of exploded with cheers (for me) and boos (for the Councillor). I did then get a reply from the Councillor but it was not very clear. I have therefore requested a transcript of the answers from the Council.
I have never been involved in this kind of activism at this level before and it all began when I joined the London Group affiliated to The Equality Trust (now known as MFL) about one and a half years ago. I read The Spirit Level two years ago and that was my inspiration.
Hugely encouraged by this experience I, and two other colleagues in MFL who are Bromley residents, have set up the Bromley Income Equality Group (BIEG) and have decided to campaign locally in the borough. We will be having a stall in Bromley Market Place to highlight the pay gap and will be doing lots of posters and hand-outs and possibly a petition for people to sign. We will also be looking to make a Giant figure (representing Chief Executive Pay) and some small figures (representing lower-paid workers) to highlight, in a very visual way, the extent of pay inequality in the borough. Next year we also plan to arrange a local meeting and invite various speakers.
Submitting a question to your Council – how Pam went about it…
NB: Every Council will have its own rules and procedures but we hope the following helps!
The campaign began when I sent a letter to Bromley Council (the Leader of the Council) asking him to set up a Fairness Commission and to pay the London Living Wage to their staff and their contracted out workers. I also made reference to The Spirit Level. I also sent copies of this letter to several other councillors including the three Labour councillors in the borough (councillor contact information can be found on your Council’s website) I received a polite reply from the Leader of the Council saying they were not prepared to consider any of my requests. I also received a reply from a Labour councillor, who I spoke with later.
I then found out that members of the public who live in Bromley can ask questions at open Council meetings that are held once a month. I phoned the Labour Councillor who advised me how to go about this process and he and the other Labour councillors were very helpful in advising on several matters.
Next, I contacted the Democratic Services Manager at Bromley Council who is responsible for administering this process and he advised me further. I also got advice from John Courtneidge (MFL and BIEG) and Bill Kerry (The Equality Trust) and I sent the question in. I then received a phone call to say that my question had been accepted and that I could read it out at the next open Council meeting. My question had to be no more that fifty words but I managed to get more words into mine on the night.
I then did lots of research into Bromley Council finding out everything I could on the internet about their pay structure (their executive pay scales, overall salary scales and spinal column points), if they had any fairness statement (they did but it really didn’t say very much!) and generally making sure that I was fully in-the-know about Bromley’s pay policies. I also researched as many other London Boroughs as I could. Basically, all Councils have to put all information about executive pay in the budget statement on their Council website – but sometimes it is quite hard to find!
I was told that when they gave me an answer to my question I would then be able to have “a return question”. Obviously I did not know what their answer to my initial question would be but I was told that it would very likely be a negative one. I therefore prepared a return question that could respond to any such negativity. So, by the time I went into the Council chamber I was feeling fully briefed and confident about what I was asking. It certainly pays to do your homework!