THE leader of the North-East’s biggest council has defended the national bargaining system for setting local government workers’ pay, after about a million were offered a pay rise of one per cent.

Durham County Council leader Simon Henig said: “We’ve always been clear that we support the national bargaining system for good or ill.”

His comments come the day after the local authority employers’ body offered a one per cent pay rise to around a million council workers across England, Wales and Northern Ireland – and a slightly higher rise to 50,000 on the lowest salaries.

The offer follows a similar one per cent rise last year, which itself came after a three-year wage freeze.

If agreed, the rise will cost 350 councils a total of £164m.

Sian Timoney, for the councils, said there was “broad consensus” on the “fair deal”.

He said: “At a time when local government is tackling the biggest cuts in living memory, this offer balances our commitment to increase the pay of our hardworking employees with the responsibility we have to address the significant financial pressures we face.”

However, the GMB union said workers would be dismayed at another below-inflation pay rise and Unison said it would consult its 600,000 members on industrial action.

The offer does not apply to senior managers, teachers or firefighters.

Defending the national system, Coun Henig said: “We are better within that framework than out of it.”

He added: “I do think it’s important that the lowest paid will get particular help.”