CALLS to ramp up pressure on nuclear firms to pay apprentices higher wages could backfire, leading Copeland councillors have warned.

The Overview and Scrutiny Committee also wants the authority to engage with Sellafield through their ‘Social Impact Programme’ to adopt the Living Wage.

However, a meeting of the council executive heard that Sellafield was not able to “impose” demands on contracting companies working on the site, sparking calls for the recommendations put forward to be “re-worded”.

David Moore, the council’s nuclear portfolio-holder, said: “The majority of apprentices, even at Sellafield, are not on the Living Wage.

“We are training more apprentices in West Cumbria than ever before, but it could have a massive impact if you suddenly say to organisations ‘You must pay the Living Wage’.

“That could half the number of apprenticeships that they can offer. Is it better to have 200 apprentices at Sellafield or 100 on the Living Wage? I think we need to be quite cautious.”

He felt that the Overview and Scrutiny Panel’s report suggested that Sellafield should try to “impose” the Living Wage rules on its sub-contractors, though this was contractually impossible.

The Overview and Scrutiny Committee had also asked to make Copeland a champion for the Living Wage, and for the launch of a council campaign to make the region a Living Wage borough.

Mayor Mike Starkie said he was “surprised” to see the recommendations from the overview, claiming that the council already does the things asked of it in the report.

Responding to a recommendation to make Copeland council a ‘champion’ for the Living Wage, Mr Starkie said: “I know of no greater champion. Over these last few years, we’ve done an awful lot in terms of writing to employers.  We’ve engaged with Sellafield; we’ve written to the chief executive; we’ve written to the chief executive of the NDA; we’ve done everything that is practically possible to support the Living Wage throughout the borough’ and we are already an accredited Living Wage organisation.”

He said he was happy to continue the council’s work encouraging other organisations follow its example and adopt the Living Wage.

But he told the executive that the recommendation around Sellafield and the Living Wage would need to be “worded differently” before he could endorse it.

“The volume of apprentices in Copeland is the second highest in the country and I certainly wouldn’t want us to get into a position where we were damaging those opportunities, and people who go through apprenticeships move far beyond the Living Wage,” he said.