The gender pay gap at Wokingham Borough Council (WBC) has risen, having already been one of the highest in the country.

The difference in the mean hourly rate between men and women working at the council has gone up from 13.9 per cent in 2018/19 to 15.2 per cent in 2019/20.

WBC last week committed to improving the “shocking” gender pay gap by one per cent every year for the next three years but its efforts to improve the gap have been slammed.

Louise Timlin, leader of Reading and Wokingham’s branch of the Women’s Equality Party, called the plan “a feeble effort” and said it is “shocking that WBC’s pay gap is so high”.

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Councillor John Halsall, leader of WBC, announced plans to reduce the pay gap in response to a question at full council on July 23 by Ms Timlin, who had asked the council to commit to an action plan or a statement of intent.

He said the one per cent reduction per year is part of the council’s action plan, set to be introduced later this summer.

How does Wokingham compare to other Berkshire councils?

WBC has  a 15.2 per cent mean gap compared to the average mean of 6.8 per cent in the country.

While nine of the council’s 22 most senior roles are held by women, including the Chief Executive, there is a mean bonus gap of 77.8 per cent.

This means for every £1 a man working at the council gets in bonuses, a woman gets 6p on average.

Reading Borough Council and the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead (RBWM) have gaps of 5 per cent, while Slough’s is 3.1 percent.

Bracknell Forest Council and West Berkshire Council have higher pay gaps than Wokingham, however, with 18.2 per cent and 19.5 per cent respectively.

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Cllr Halsall said equality is “hard-wired into WBC’s DNA” but Labour councillor Rachel Burgess, who also spoke at the meeting, called this claim as “absurd”.

She said: “It’s as if the gender pay gap statistics that speak volumes in the report mean nothing to the executive.

“I understand there are structural differences between authorities, but this cannot account for such an extensive variance between Wokingham and its neighbours.

“Clearly it is unacceptable that the average pay for men in the council is so much higher than the average pay for women.

“WBC need to be way more ambitious – bias needs to be removed from the very culture at WBC.”

What is the gender pay gap and why is it so high at WBC?

The Gender Pay Gap compares the hourly rate of pay of all men and women in an organisation and is not related to equal pay claims.

 According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the reasons for the pay gap include the fact women often work in low-skilled jobs such as clerical work and cashiering, while men work in higher paid roles such as finance and utilities.

Other reasons include women more often working in part- time roles which are less available at a senior level, and discrimination against women in the workplace.

Ms Timlin says WBC should follow RBWM’s example if it wants to be a “forward-thinking” council.

RBWM gives managers unconscious bias training and promotes family friendly policies such as flexible working patterns.