How Does Council Pay Work?

If you've never worked in local government, council pay structures are probably quite confusing. Here's a brief guide to how it all works.

At the core of the local government pay structure is the National Joint Council (NJC) 'pay spine', which is the same all across the country except for London, where a percentage increase is applied for the greater cost of living. The pay spine is the component that is subject to national pay deals negotiated between the unions and the NJC/Local Government Association (LGA) - these are the pay negotiations that get talked about in the press. The pay spine looks something like this:

Point 1: £9,201
Point 2: £9,703
Point 3: £10,111

And so on, extending up to 49 points, with the rise in money gradually increasing as the points are ascended. The points above 49 (about £40,000+) are not 'official' NJC points and are not set or negotiated at a national level. Next, councils create 'pay scales', or 'pay grades'. For example, Scale 1, or Scale 5. Scale 1 might encompass spine points 1-4. Scale 2 might be points 5-8. Next, they assign scales to jobs. For example, a cleaner might be scale 1. A clerical assistant might be scale 1-2 (i.e. their scale includes spine points 1-8). Pay grades that span more than one pay scale are sometimes referred to as 'career grades', and there may be criteria that must be met for the worker to progress from one scale to the next.

Here's an example of a spinal point and pay scale chart [Excel spreadsheet] for 2010/2011 from the London Voluntary Service Council.

Upon taking up employment, a council worker will usually start at the bottom of the scale for that job. So in this example, both the cleaner and the clerical assistant will start at point 1. Every year, a council worker's pay rises one spine point, and receives the new wage associated with that spine point. This is usually automatic. On top of that, they receive whatever pay increase was negotiated for that year - the percentage increase is applied at the level of the spinal column structure. Once a worker reaches the top of their scale (e.g. point 4 for the cleaner, and point 8 for the clerical assistant), they no longer progress up the spinal points, and from then on the only wage increase they receive is from the nationally-negotiated settlement.

On top of this structure, councils can award discretionary additional payments. These include 'recruitment and retention' bonuses, or 'market supplements', awarded in cases where it could be argued that recruiting and retaining staff would otherwise be a problem without the additional payment. Councils have to be able to justify these payments with evidence of recruitment/retention difficulties.

Councils who are opted-out of the National Pay Agreement (approx. 40 councils) may not follow this structure, nor were they compelled to undergo the Single Status job evaluation exercise.

The Single Status job evaluation exercise was not applied to the NJC pay spine, but instead re-arranged how pay scales applied to points, and also re-decided which jobs were attached to which scales. Although the Single Status job evaluation followed rules set at a national level, councils had some freedom in the fine details at a local level. The outcomes may differ from council to council. For example, compare the grading structures developed by Devon County Council (PDF - see page 7) and Nottinghamshire County Council (PDF - see page 6).

Edited 20.50, 21.10.11: Fixed broken link to Nottinghamshire County Council pay structure.