EXCLUSIVE - by DOUG COLLIE
A national initiative launched 18 months ago in a bid to persuade employers to seek accreditation as payers of the £7.85 living wage has been virtually ignored by bosses in the Scottish Borders and many other areas of Scotland, according to the latest statistics.
Only three local employment providers have taken the trouble to acquire the special status. They are a community bakery based in a remote corner of Peeblesshire, a Selkirk company which sells broadband packages, and one of the region's SNP politicians.
The accreditation initiative, established north of the border in April 2014, is organised by the Poverty Alliance. The scheme works in partnership with the Living Wage Foundation and is funded by the Scottish Government. There are now 1,100 living wage employers in the UK, 318 of them in Scotland.
A breakdown of the number of accredited employers in each of the 32 local authority areas was given by SNP Cabinet minister Roseanna Cunningham in a written Parliamentary answer published on Wednesday of this week. In many cases the totals are in low single figures with Moray returning a zero along with South Ayrshire and the Western Isles.
Ms Cunningham said: "Peter Kelly, Director of the Poverty Alliance, who run the initiative, has highlighted that Scotland now has the highest public awareness of the Living Wage, and has a faster rate in terms of growth of number of Accredited Living Wage Employers than any other part of the UK. More people in Scotland are paid the Living Wage than in any country in the UK."
Each accredited employer is identified on the Scottish Living Wage website which also outlines the benefits of paying workers more than the minimum allowed by law.
Those bosses who pay the £7.85 hourly rate are said to have experienced a 25% fall in absenteeism while 80% of employers believe the living wage has enhanced the quality of the work of their staff. In addition, 66% reported a significant impact on recruitment and retention within their organisation.
Once accredited employers become licenced to use the living wage employer mark and receive a wall plaque to display to visitors.
So far the only plaques dished out in the Borders have gone to Breadshare, a bakery producing organic bread at Lamancha, West Linton, TenTel, a broadband services provider based at Ettrick Riverside, Selkirk, and Scottish Cabinet minister Paul Wheelhouse MSP, the South of Scotland SNP member with an office in Hawick.
In his recent Budget statement , UK Chancellor George Osborne announced plans for a National Living Wage of £7.20 an hour to be increased from next April and rising to £9 by 2020.
Many who watched the Budget speech on television may have seen Works and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith jigging with delight on the floor of the House of Commons even though he is unlikely to benefit from Mr Osborne's modest measures to help the poorest paid.
There has been a less than enthusiastic response from many employers with dire predictions the new wage levels will result in tens of thousands of job losses and stifle growth. A significant number of directors and others near the top of the employment tree fear their double figure pay rises and eye-watering six-figure bonuses could be under threat if their low paid staff have to be given a decent increment.