POLITICAL rivals have clashed over the future of a "living wage" for thousands of York council workers.

The pay rate - higher than the minimum wage - was introduced at City of York Council by its ruling Labour group, which pressured opposition groups to confirm whether they would retain it during the next administration, between 2015 and 2019.

Labour's motion calling for a four-year commitment to continuing the living wage regardless of who has power after next May sparked claims they were already trying to dictate a future council's policy. The Liberal Democrats and Greens voted to keep the wage, while the Conservatives abstained.

Dringhouses and Woodthorpe councillor Anna Semlyen, who proposed the motion, said: "The living wage does not just help people afford the cost of living, it improves their health, productivity, the quality of their work and how they feel about themselves.

"How would our staff feel if their pay was increased and then downgraded? It would be absolutely awful. The council has to take a lead on this."

Conservative councillor Joe Watt, while not speaking for his group's policy, did not support the living wage, saying: "We should follow the policy of Government, which sets the minimum wage, and have faith in that system rather than putting another tax burden on the people of York - this is old-fashioned trade unionism to get one pay rise after another". Labour councillor Tracey Simpson-Laing said Coun Watt's views were "just one step too far".

Chris Steward, who leads the Conservatives, said his party would not cut pay but added: "We cannot find a blank cheque for whatever level the living wage may be next year, let alone in 2019 - I don't want to see hundreds of people caught up in a political game."

Liberal Democrat leader Keith Aspden said Labour's motion was attempting to "ensure their policy continues even if they don't continue in power", while supporting it.

Green councillor Dave Taylor said the living wage improved the lives of low-paid workers, but said: "It's OK for Labour to promote it, but they are also making staff redundant, externalising jobs to the private sector, and forcing staff into early retirement with their jobs taken by volunteers."