17:19 Friday 27th February 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
CHRIS MANN: Well will it be the same old song from the two politicians joining me now? A couple of subjects to talk about. Let’s first welcome them. Councillor Ashley Walsh from Labour, who’s the lead on the Living Wage on the County Council. The member for Petersfield. Ashley, hello.
ASHLEY WALSH: Hello Chris.
CHRIS MANN: And also councillor Rod Cantrill, LibDem for Newnham on Cambridge City Council, and a member of the Council’s Strategy and Resources Committee. Hello.
ROD CANTRILL: Hi Chris.
CHRIS MANN: A couple of things. We’ll come on to the university tuition fees in a moment or two, but there was a claim today by the LibDems saying the Co-op of all companies, the Co-op food stores, are paying people below the Living Wage. Expand on this please Rod.
ROD CANTRILL: Yes Chris. It was Full Council last night, and I asked a question of the Labour ruling group, what progress they’d made in relation to promoting the Living Wage with retailers, and in particular food retailers, across the city, who are key employers; and were they aware that the Co-op here in Cambridge is basically advertising jobs at £6.73 an hour – indeed it was the Co-op on Milton Road, just close to where we are now; and whether they’d put immediate pressure on the Co-op to basically pay the Living Wage; and if they ..
CHRIS MANN: What should they be offering people?
ROD CANTRILL: The Living Wage basically is recalculated every year, and outside London it’s £7.85. In London it’s £9.15 currently. But it’s recalculated every year, based on the cost of living, the minimum cost to actually have a standard of living which enables people to not just survive and make ends meet.
CHRIS MANN: So what do you want to happen?
ROD CANTRILL: Well what I want to happen is I want them to get the Co-op to pay the Living Wage, and if the Co-op is not going to pay the Living Wage, then those councillors who are associated with the Co-op, and that’s six councillors on the ruling Labour group, should disassociate themselves from the organisation until it does. Because it’s a demonstration that these organisations, in particular the Co-op, who has an ethos of being ethical and sustainable, and looking after its employees, should actually pay the Living Wage.
CHRIS MANN: OK Ashley Walsh. Are you a councillor who’s backed by the Co-operative Society?
ASHLEY WALSH: I’m not backed by the Co-operative Party. I should explain ..
CHRIS MANN: The Co-operative Party of course which was one of the founders of the Labour Party.
ASHLEY WALSH: Well quite right, and still maintains close links to the Labour Party. I should explain. Even for councillor Cantrill this is pretty low politics. It’s a non-story in fact. The Co-operative Group and the Co-operative Party are two separate organisations. And the Co-operative Party, which is connected to the Labour Party, pays a Living Wage. So he asks the Labour council what we’ve done to advance the Living Wage. We are now a Living Wage employer, thanks to the Labour administration. Opposed by the Liberal Democrats, we have a Living Wage campaign and a Living Wage officer, who will be going to see the Co-operative Group in Cambridge, and will be encouraging them as with all businesses to pay the Living Wage. They should pay the Living Wage. But to draw the link ..
CHRIS MANN: Was this news to you?
ASHLEY WALSH: This was news to me. Yes.
CHRIS MANN: What did you think of what they’re offering people?
ASHLEY WALSH: I think every reputable business should be paying the Living Wage, particularly in cities like Cambridge, where the cost of living is so excruciatingly high, particularly for young people.
CHRIS MANN: Since Labour are of course in charge of the City Council why don’t you go round and make sure people are paying the Living Wage?
ASHLEY WALSH: Well we have. That’s why the Labour city council has now employed, which the Liberal Democrats opposed, a Living Wage officer to lead that campaign. So the Council positively goes to all major businesses in the city and shows them the positive side of having the Living Wage, rather than browbeating them.
CHRIS MANN: Storm in a teacup Rod?
ROD CANTRILL: No it’s not a storm in a teacup. As we are all aware from the exposure that the public’s had of the Co-op it’s a very complex structure. And there is linkage between the Co-operative Party and the Co-op Group. So for example the Co-op undertook not to give any political donations prior to the General Election in 2015. That was in 2014. This year they’ve decided to defer that until after the election and give a £1 million to the Labour Party, via the Co-op, called Co-operative Party. So actually if you think of the £1 million that could be spent by the Co-op Group in terms of making sure that those hard working employees were paid the Living Wage … And I’d just like to get a few facts on the table Chris in relation to the City Council and the Living Wage. It was the LibDem ruling group in 2013 who introduced the Living Wage to the City Council, for employees and agency workers. It was the LibDem group who instigated the Living Wage being an accredited .. the City Council being an accredited employer for the Living Wage Foundation. And even this year we proposed an amendment which was opposed by the Labour ruling group in the Budget, regarding extending funding to those contractors who are paying the Living Wage.
CHRIS MANN: OK. Ashley Walsh, it must be a bit embarrassing as a Labour member being lectured on the Living Wage by the LibDems, isn’t it?
ASHLEY WALSH: I’m not being lectured by the LibDems, who it was discovered in May 2014 were employing people to deliver their newsletters that weren’t paying the Living Wage. Just to point out on ..
ROD CANTRILL: Happy to answer that question Chris if you want me to.
ASHLEY WALSH: Well let me finish. Just be quiet for a moment Rod.
ROD CANTRILL: Happy to answer that question.
ASHLEY WALSH: He makes reference to the leisure contract negotiation that we’re currently going through, which is ongoing. Now the LibDems tried once before in 2012 to get contractors like the leisure centre contractor to pay the Living Wage, and the officers said we should not be doing that because it would prejudice our position. They should be paying the Living Wage and the Council shouldn’t be subsidising them to do that.
CHRIS MANN: I’d like to move on to the subject of the university tuition fees.
ROD CANTRILL: Can I just ..
CHRIS MANN: Very briefly.
ROD CANTRILL: Can I just come back on this point.
CHRIS MANN: Very briefly please.
ROD CANTRILL: Because it is a particular point. So he puts the point that one of our suppliers was not paying the Living Wage. It’s debatable, but as a member of the local party, we did go back. We reviewed the position in terms of our suppliers locally. And I can now tell you that we pay the Living Wage in relation to our suppliers. So that’s including cleaners and so forth. So I put it to the Labour Party that if they basically are ..
CHRIS MANN: Point made. I need to move on now.
ASHLEY WALSH: Calm down Rod. Calm down.
CHRIS MANN: I need to move on to the tuition fees, which I hope you don’t want to avoid that one.
ROD CANTRILL: No not at all Chris.
CHRIS MANN: OK. many people believe that the Cambridge seat will come down, for those five candidates, come down to potentially LibDem versus Labour. It might be decided on an issue such as university tuition fees, which of course the LibDems reneged on their promise pre-election and supported when they got into partnership with the Conservatives. So Ashley Walsh, Ed Miliband setting out a plan today to cut university tuition fees. Must be music to your ears.
ASHLEY WALSH: Yes it’s music to my ears as a student who had to pay tuition fees when I was at university.
CHRIS MANN: You’re still a student, aren’t you?
ASHLEY WALSH: Absolutely. I’m now a postgraduate student. Yes. But as an undergraduate I had to pay tuition fees.
CHRIS MANN: Will the system work, and is there enough money to fund it?
ASHLEY WALSH: Well all of the people who’ve commented on it, even those who don’t support the proposal, accept that it’s fully costed. It’s a very sensible moderate proposal, because part of the problem with tuition fees is that because Nick Clegg made such a big deal of being the honest guy who would not break a promise, and made tuition fees the headline of that, the important thing is we have a sensible achievable plan.
CHRIS MANN: But the number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds at university now is at the highest ever level, according to Government figures.
ASHLEY WALSH: Well there is always .. more and more people ..
CHRIS MANN: Is that not important to you?
ASHLEY WALSH: Yes well more and more people are going to university. That’s part of .. it’s a feature of the economy. But people .. listeners should ask themselves if they can name .. think of people who have relied say upon their grandparents or their parents to fork out to put them through.
CHRIS MANN: This must be bad news presumably for Julian Huppert and other LibDem candidates at the General Election Rod.
ROD CANTRILL: Well Chris Julian voted against the tuition fees in this previous parliament.
CHRIS MANN: He said he’d support it in Government.
ROD CANTRILL: Basically Julian voted against tuition fees in terms of the tuition fees vote. If you look at the Labour proposals, it seems that only graduates with a starting salary of at least £35,000 are going to benefit. That means basically it’s only benefiting the most wealthiest students. And actually as you touched on Chris the current system means that the most disadvantaged, the number of applications from that area is the maximum we’ve seen ever. And in particular in a city like Cambridge, where the universities are a fundamental part of the economy, what Labour’s proposal suggests is that basically there’s going to be risk to university funding, because they haven’t explained where the universities are going to get the shortfall in funding from.
CHRIS MANN: But this is a key area, not just for young people, but also other age groups who don’t like the idea of future generations being saddled with debt. Ashley Walsh.
ASHLEY WALSH: Well that’s the criticism. One of the reasons we want to reduce tuition fees is that tuition fees are now so high that we have a ticking deficit time bomb, £40 billion over 20 years Ed Miliband said today. Rod asked where the Labour Party will make up the difference. We will do that through the reforms to the pensions, so that we’re actually re-introducing state funding rather than private funding into the system.
ROD CANTRILL: Chris, the current scheme ..
CHRIS MANN: You’re not suggesting that your alma mater St Catherine’s is going to go bust because of this are you.
ROD CANTRILL: Chris, the current scheme relates in terms of certainty on university funding. Basically it goes directly to the universities. The proposed scheme from Labour talks about the Treasury basically funding the universities, so again they’re at the mercy of the Treasury in relation to the funding. And that’s something which leaves the two universities in this city at great risk. And particularly since they’re a cornerstone of the economic activity in this city.
CHRIS MANN: Do we agree this could be a key policy and battleground in this election, as well as obviously the economy?
ASHLEY WALSH: Particularly in seats like Cambridge with very high student populations.
CHRIS MANN: Rod.
ROD CANTRILL: I agree. This and many other things such as the National Health Service, the economy, and education will be important features of the General Election.
CHRIS MANN: Gentlemen, thank you for joining me and allowing us to squeeze so much into such a short time. Appreciate it. That was councillor Rod Cantrill, LibDem for Newnham from Cambridge City Council, and councillor Ashley Walsh, Labour for Petersfield on the County Council.