The Living Wage Foundation and I have been working together for a while now, and we want to spread the Living Wage message to the North East. I have met with and worked closely with Boris Johnson and his team in London, and seen the changes their leadership is bringing in London. In addition, I have met with many employers and employees, and discussed the nuts and bolts of payment of a Living Wage for both the employee and the employer. As a result I want to hold Friday's event to raise the profile of the Living Wage in the North East.
Like everyone I welcome the increase in National Minimum Wage - up 19p to £6.50 from October, but this does not change the bottom-up argument for the Living Wage. I do not support a statutory Living Wage. It should continue to be an organic, voluntary campaign, because that is when it is at its best; certainly if you look at London and the South East the campaign has really taken off and gained momentum.
Part of Friday is making the case to employers, and the wider public, and showing that businesses can benefit from paying the Wage, just as much as employees can. I have spoken to businesses that say that morale has been boosted, productivity increased and staff turnover decreased, as a result of paying the Wage. We need to shout about these benefits. Fridays event, beginning at 9.30, will feature such diverse employers as KPMG, our hosts, to the local housing provider, Aquila Way, with representatives from the Church, Councillors, other local businesses and such key stakeholders as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the TUC. It is not too late to come along, whether to listen to us make the case or merely to observe - but call the Hexham office if you want to come. As Boris and the PM have made clear - "this is an idea whose time has come".
If you want to read more, my detailed article on the subject, and an assessment of the pros and cons for a volontary Living Wage is in last summer's New Statesman here: http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/08/guy-opperman-conservative-case-living-wage