THE row over pay levels at the firm owned by Labour MSP Anas Sarwar's family has flared up again amid a war of words between the company and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Sean Scrimger, the Trading Director of United Wholesale Scotland, said Sturgeon’s comment during the Labour leadership contest that UWS did not pay the living wage was “totally misleading”.

However, a spokesperson for Scottish Government said the First Minister had been referring to the “real” living wage, which is set at a higher level, adding that she stood by her comment.

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Sarwar’s ill-fated bid to become Scottish Labour leader earlier this year was dominated by the working practices of UWS, a highly-lucrative family firm formed by his father Mohammed.

Although Sarwar had an estimated stake in the company worth over £4 million, his campaign never recovered from the Sunday Herald revelation that UWS did not pay all staff the “real” living wage of £8.75 an hour.

UWS said it supported the “principle” of this wage level, which is endorsed by anti-poverty groups, but the firm was advertising jobs on the lower “national” living wage of £7.50 an hour.

As the coverage threatened to sink Sarwar’s chances of succeeding Kezia Dugdale the Glasgow MSP relinquished his shares in the firm. UWS is owned by the MSP's family members.

Sturgeon, who has fought a number of political battles in Glasgow against Sarwar, raised UWS at First Minister’s Questions in September.

She said: “The problem, as Anas Sarwar clearly illustrates, is that there is a massive gulf – a gulf as wide as the Clyde – between what Labour says and what it does. We have a Labour leadership candidate who lectures others about doing the right thing on pay, yet his own family firm will not pay the living wage voluntarily. Labour should get its own house in order.”

UWS kept quiet about the Holyrood jibe at the time, but Scrimger has now released a statement.

It says: “The false claims made by the First Minister on 21st September were ill-timed and totally misleading. I want to put the record straight and make it clear her statement in parliament was incorrect.

“United Wholesale Scotland pay the National Living Wage of £7.50 per hour for all over 25 year olds and all those in the bracket of 21 to 25 year olds. I have left it until now to make clear the correct facts about our business so that the message is indeed a business story and not a political one.”

He continued: “This claim risks damaging our reputation with customers and suppliers who are confused about whether we pay our staff the National Living Wage, which we do.

“I hope the First Minister corrects her error and lets the Scottish Parliament know the true position. We are proud of how our business has developed over the last 15 years and that is down to our loyal workforce of over 270 across Scotland who we will always seek to treat fairly with a competitive wage and a great working environment.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The First Minister stands by the comment made in Parliament. The national living wage is a statutory requirement which employers have no option but to pay. The First Minister was referring to the real living wage. UWS does not pay the real living wage, which is set at £8.75, and which the Scottish Government encourages employers to do on a voluntary basis.”

It is understood Jamie Hepburn, the Minister for Employability & Training, wrote to UWS in late September about discussing the benefits of becoming a real living wage employer.