AN attempt to force the North-East’s biggest council to pay the Living Wage by next spring has failed.

Eighteen months after Labour-led Durham County Council agreed to look into introducing the minimum pay level, currently £7.65 outside London, it is yet to be adopted.

At today’s (Wednesday, July 23) full council meeting, Liberal Democrat Mark Wilkes tabled a motion calling on the authority to pay the Living Wage as soon as possible and no later than April.

He said it would cost £371,000 a year but the council had £134m in reserves.

The council’s Labour leader Simon Henig said the authority was facing cuts of £30m for each of the next three years and in such circumstances its reserves were entirely prudent.

Labour’s Mike Dixon, who tabled the original Living Wage motion in December 2012, said a working group looking into the issue had discovered serious implementation problems.

Conservative leader Richard Bell said the issue should be thrashed out at a national level, prompting Cllr Wilkes to accuse him of “reverting to Tory type – to keep the poor poor”.

Cllr Wilkes also accused Labour of being champagne socialists and caviar communists, while Cllr Henig said the Lib Dems had cut taxes for the highest paid.

A Labour amendment to Cllr Wilkes’ motion was passed, committing the council to adopting the Living Wage only if it is found to be affordable and setting no deadline for doing so.

Cllr Wilkes said it was an absolute disgrace.