Unions defend £4m council cost of a good industrial relationship

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Union officials have defended the multi-million pound cost to the taxpayer of their council staff as an essential part of workforce relations.

Yorkshire Post figures show at more than £4m paid towards union officials in town halls and council depots across the region.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles

The money funds everything from in some cases just wages right through to the cost of hiring meeting rooms and travel allowances for officials going to meet members.

Ministers have been calling for council union costs to come down for several years now, though three years of figures released to this newspaper under the Freedom of Information Act show few councils have made substantial reductions.

While Wakefield Council, for example , managed to reduce it’s spend from £221,618 in 2013 to £181,565 in 2014, East Riding of Yorkshire Council saw it spending go up slightly from £73,286 to £73,971 over the same period.

One of the biggest spenders was North Yorkshire, where council staff spent almost £800,000 on supporting union activities.

A spokesman for North Yorkshire County Council said part of the reason for larger costs in the county was the way it funds schools.

A spokesman said: “The council as responsibility for more schools than other authorities, and also has fewer academies, with a schools workforce alone of 14,000. Other schools and authorities pay for unions in a different way to us; we provide access to union support and recharge our schools.”

He added: “The geographical area covered by the county inevitably means there is an increase in travelling costs to cover the 3,100 square miles in North Yorkshire.

“The recent level of school restructure and restructure within the county has seen increased legal requirement for union representation with more than 30 per cent of staff being at risk of redundancy since 2010.”

Union officials said that the Government’s own 2007 research showed that well-run union departments saves the taxpayer up to £400m a year by improving retention, training take-up, health and safety and dispute resolution.

And separate research by the TUC in 2014 suggested 16% time spent on union work was paid for by their council bosses.

Unison, one of the biggest local government unions, led the defence of the funding.

Regional Secretary John Cafferty said: “The Tories and the Taxpayers’ Alliance are ideologically opposed to the very existence of trade unions in the workplace.

“They are trying to make political points in the face of overwhelming evidence that properly constructed industrial relations in big organisations actually saves millions of pounds every year.

“Under these agreements, we are able to intervene at an early stage to stop complaints and grievances and thereby avoid expensive and time-consuming legal or industrial action.

“A report from the TUC says the presence of unions in workplaces is saving employers in the private and public sectors up to £700 million a year - £2million a

“It is a practical and very efficient way to ensure good industrial relations. Employers must ensure that they are seen as running a “good place” to work.

“The independent arbitration service ACAS is clear that facility time for unions in the workplace has clear benefits for all organisations.

In Bradford council paymasters hand over some £200,000 to facilitate union activities, even as it slashes millions of pounds from public spending.

Shipley MP Philip Davies said the funding was out of proportion with the pressures facing local authorities.

The Conservative MP added: “At a time when councils are claiming they haven’t enough money for essential services it is unacceptable for them to be still giving this huge subsidy to trade unions.

“These people should be paid from union subscriptions not from hard working council tax payers.”

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