Shropshire Council has one of the highest gender pay gaps of all councils – it must stop making excuses and tackle the problem

At 2pm on Maundy Thursday afternoon, just as everyone was slipping away for the Easter break, Shropshire Council issued a press release detailing how much men and women are paid by the council. I have taken a reality check on this. Its positive tone belies the reality that Shropshire Council is bumping along the bottom on closing the gender pay gap. Only 12 councils in England pay women less than Shropshire Council.

Maundy Thursday was a good time to bury bad news and there was certainly bad news to bury. What the council was anxious to slip out before the Easter break was that it is one of the worst performers on equal pay in the England. Only 12 of more than 300 councils in England have a larger gender pay gap than Shropshire Council.

In its press release and data submitted to the Home Office, Shropshire Council revealed that the average hourly pay of female employees at is 21% less than the pay of the men it employs.

Paying women one fifth less is not good enough for the second decade of the twenty-first century.

The council press release pleads that it pays men and women equally. It says the problem is that there are more women in lower paid jobs.

The council has missed the point. Of course, women in the same pay grade are paid the same as men. The real problem is that many women can’t access higher grade jobs because they find progress blocked. Too often they don’t get considered for better paid roles. And because they don’t get the same chances as men, they lose the aspiration to apply for the higher paid jobs. It is the age old vicious circle.

I have spent a couple of days taking a reality check on Shropshire Council’s excuses. The government set a deadline of 30 March for submission of gender pay data.[1] By that date, 317 councils in England had sent information to Whitehall. That data reveals that Shropshire Council has the 13th highest pay gap in the hourly rate paid to men and women.[2]

The council says that it employs a lot of caterers and cleaners who are low paid women. It doesn’t say why these employees are predominately women.

The council tells us that a lot of its staff are part-time, again predominately low paid women. It says that if only full time staff are considered the gender pay gap is just 9%. That statement is an admission that if you don’t work full time, you’ll are unlikely to get paid as well as men in Shropshire Council. It’s a fossilised and shocking attitude to employment.

The council pleads that it employs many women over 40 and many have taken time away from work for childcare. Hence they are paid less.[3] That sort of attitude was left behind by most public sector organisations decades ago. Few us now accept that having and looking after children should be a barrier to career advancement. Most of us believe that you shouldn’t have to be an Alpha Male working long hours seven days a week to get to the top.

The council’s disgraceful press release is nothing other than a list of excuses to justify a truly abominable performance on equality by the council.[4]

Nearly six in ten councils in England pay male and female employees within one tenth of equal pay.[5] But in Shropshire Council, the nearly 2,900 female employees get paid on average one-fifth less than men. That cannot continue.

In justifying its utterly dire position on gender, the council is trying to plead that it has a unique staff profile. I doubt it. Different councils have different responsibilities but the 56 unitary councils in England have pretty much the same job to do. All but one of the other unitary councils have a smaller gender pay gap than Shropshire.[6]

It’s not down to geography either. Shropshire Council has a bigger gender pay gap than all the surrounding counties. It has the biggest gender pay gap of all the councils in the West Midlands.

In its press release, the council says the gender pay gap would reduce if it included outsourced services such as waste and highways. But if companies collecting bins and repairing potholes can pay women better, why can’t the council do the same?[7]

If other councils can manage to reduce the gender pay gap and 53 councils in England pay women more than men, why can’t Shropshire Council at least strive for equality in pay?

The council is an outlier when it comes to closing the gender pay gap, performing worse than almost all its peers. In its defence, the council says: “When considering the top 5% of our workforce for non schools employees 57% are female, 43% male.” It doesn’t explain what top 5% means, numbers or pay, or how many staff it involves. From the published data, it is possible to establish that 20% of female employees are in the top quarter of earners in the council. In contrast, twice the percentage of men are in the top quarter of earners (41%).

I think part of the reason for this failure to address the gender pay gap is the predominance of men in senior political positions on the council. Only 17 of the 74 councillors are women (23%). Only nine of the 49-strong ruling Conservative group are female (18%). Just two of the ten cabinet members are female. The leader and deputy leader are male.

I am profoundly disappointed by Shropshire Council’s limp response to this gender data. It seems to be saying “that’s just the way life is.” It is not proposing any significant action to tackle the issue. It doesn’t seem to regard gender inequality in jobs as a problem at all. All the council commits to is to “review these figures and continue to measure our progress.”

Shropshire Council can’t just shrug the gender pay off. No matter what the council says in the way of excuses, this level of gender pay gap is not justified in the second decade of the 21st century. This is not a minor issue. It affects nearly 3,000 employees of Shropshire Council.[8]

The council should follow government and ACAS guidance and produce an action plan to tackle the gender pay gap.[9] In future years, Shropshire Council must also publish a detailed breakdown of employment and pay at every level by service area. The council will never have the constructive environment that is needed to get a balance of women, men and pay in the council until we see the full picture of where people are employed and how much they are paid.

The government ordered review of pay by gender should have been an opportunity to reflect and commit to significant action to address the council’s problems. Instead, it has been used as an opportunity for a public relations spin by Shropshire Council slipped out just as people were leaving for the Easter break.

The council must acknowledge that it has a long way to go on equal pay. It must accept that it is not doing anywhere near as well as the majority of councils.

I fear it will be a long journey to get anywhere near gender equality in Shropshire Council given the out of date attitudes expressed in its press release. The council must immediately set up a root and branch review of why most women are relegated to second tier, lower paid jobs in the council.

Notes

[1]. Data at https://gender-pay-gap.service.gov.uk/.

[2]. Shropshire Council is ranked 13th worst performer measures on mean pay and on median pay. The median is a better measure than the mean for summarising the pay most people recieve.

[3]. See https://shropshire.gov.uk/media/9476/gender-pay-gap-report-final.pdf.

[4]. Shropshire Council’s press release says: “Shropshire’s Gender Pay Gap is slightly higher than the national average.” Shropshire Council pays women 21% less than men. This the same as the council average of 21% for the 317 English councils that have returned data so far. In any event, averages are not a good measure in this context. Only 10 councils pay worse than the mean of 21%. More than 300 councils pay better than the mean. That’s why the median is usually used in an analysis like this. By definition, half of councils lie above the median and half below. The median gender pay gap for Shropshire Council is -26%. For all the councils in England that submitted data be the deadline, it is -15%. That’s a huge gap that is disguised by a statistical sleight of hand in Shropshire Council’s press release.

[5]. 55% of councils in England are within -10% to +10% of the equal pay meridian. That includes Telford and Wrekin, our nearest neighbour, where the median pay is for women is 5% lower than men. That is just one fifth of the Shropshire Council gender pay gap.

[6]. In Wokingham women receive -29% mean and -15% median pay compared to men.

[7]. In its press release, Shropshire Council says: “The [gender] calculations do not include those employees in those services which have been outsourced, such as waste collections, highways maintenance and highways engineering, which are more male dominated. If they did, then the mean Gender Pay Gap would reduce.” It provides no data for this. By saying this, the council is also trying to distract attention from its own backyard and the fact that most other councils outsource these services. Veolia Shropshire, which collects waste and recycling, does pay women as much or more than men (equal median pay and +2.6% mean pay). But the highways contractors are pretty similar in paying women less than men: Ringway (highways): median -11.4%, mean -7.4%; Keir (which replaced Ringway on 1 April as highways contractor): median -11.9%, mean -11.7%; Mouchel (highways engineers); median -11.4%, mean -11.1%.

[8]. This number excludes staff in schools.

[9]. Government Equalities Office Actions for Employers. ACAS Gender pay gap reporting.

8 thoughts on “Shropshire Council has one of the highest gender pay gaps of all councils – it must stop making excuses and tackle the problem

  1. And this is a surprise? How else would we expect Con mails to treat all females?

    And that alongside all non-Cons being seen as plebs, worthy of no consideration for anything, no matter what their sex.

  2. Good article Andy. If you had evidence of “The real problem is that many women can’t access higher grade jobs because they find progress blocked.” – that would be a powerful argument. For example, you could look at the gender split in applications for ‘higher grade jobs’, in the selection for interview, and the decision on the successful applicant, and the make-up assessment panels. Don’t know if any of this is available.

    1. Such evidence might not exist because the narrative (that women find progress blocked) might well be false. Or is that wrongthink?

  3. It is unfair without doubt. Propose that all females are paid on par with there male workers Andy. Put this forward to the council.
    It would cost millions of pounds to the council, which in turn would lead to the people of Shropshire paying for these wage rises. Or does the money come from the government? I totally agree with you on this, and I don’t agree with most of your ideas. Put a proposal to local authorities

  4. Andy, I have no doubt that the broad thrust of your article is spot on, nor that Shropshire council is dragging its feet in both recognising and taking action to counter the discrimination it’s female employees suffer. You are right to point it out and to demand a response.

    A couple of questions: One: you referred to the council saying the situation would not be so bad if they included outsourced services. Is this because they have outsourced men’s jobs to non unionised sub contractors who are able to pay lower wages than direct council employees? Two: the graph you included highlighting Shropshire’s relative as well as absolute failure showed a surprising number (to me at least) of councils where there was significant pay inequality in favour of women. If there is not unfair treatment for men in these councils, the figures would suggest that there is a wide distribution around the mean on pay inequality, that do not seem to be explained by the commonly quoted causes of women earning less (I find it difficult to believe that in those councils where women earn more there are more part-time women employees, more men taking career breaks to raise their kids, more men running into the ‘glass ceiling) – I would like to know the reasons behind this range but suspect that different patterns of outsourcing might be a significant reason for the differences – and that a range of gender pay differentials is inevitable given a range of outsourcing strategies.

    None of this questions the existence of the two basic problems: One: on average, jobs traditionally done by women, and skills traditionally considered more ‘female’ are not paid as highly as ‘male dominated jobs’, or traditional ‘male’ skills. This despite all analysis showing the ‘traditionally female’ jobs and skills are the most important for our society and that they are more demanding. Two: people promote in their own image – we should see a majority of women calling the shots on promotions and pay. This of course plays directly to the male dominance of Shropshire’s ruling Tory group and cabinet – can we demand some sort of gender balance in the cabinet?

    1. Outsourced jobs are subject to TUPE. There is no data but it is as likely that outsourced staff haven’t fared work than council staff on pay. All Shropshire Council staff got a 5.4% pay cut in 2011. They have had a seven year long pay cap. Job for job, the public sector is now paid less than the private sector.

      I can’t give the reasons women get paid more in some councils without days of work. But you can look up the council reports yourself https://gender-pay-gap.service.gov.uk/

      There is much more to do on this in Shropshire.

      Theresa May has done women a big favour by insisting that this data is published.

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