MILLIONS of pounds of taxpayers money is being “wasted” as a result of Yorkshire councils paying staff to dedicate their time to trade union work, the Communities Secretary has warned.
Eric Pickles has spoke out after The Yorkshire Post uncovered figures showing town hall bosses are using under-pressure budgets to pay staff to dedicate most of their time to union activities.
In the last three years council bosses across the region have spent more than £4.6m paying trade union officials to hold meetings and travel to events, a situation drastically different from the private sector.
Some councils, including North Yorkshire and Wakefield, spent on average more than £200,000 a year on what the Communities Secretary insists are “non-jobs”.
Mr Pickles said:“We have issued clear guidance to councils to tell them that the public should not be funding trade union subsidies, which should be paid by members’ subscriptions and not bankrolled by the taxpayer.
“It is unacceptable for the councils of Yorkshire to be wasting hard working taxpayers’ money in this way and they should be reducing such public subsidies to trade unions.
“This would help them save money, keep council tax down and protect frontline services for local residents - including union members themselves.”
The Freedom of Information Act figures include the cost of allowing taxpayer funded staff to pick up a full wage while dedicating at least 50 per cent of their time to union work rather than the job they were hired to do.
Many councils have kept union payments stubbornly high despite Government calls to bring spending under control.
Payments covered by council costs include time off for trade union duties, attending trade union meetings, training and physical facilities such as office space.
Union leaders have defended the costs, saying it is common place in large organisations to free up union reps to deal with workforce issues, and the resulting good workplace relationships are seen in reduced industrial action and improved staff productivity.
Union reps also pointed to their role as a go between during four years of council redundancies as another benefit of having well resourced unions in council work places.
Others though have backed Mr Pickles in his condemnation of the council spending at a time of continuing budget cuts.
Andy Silvester, campaigns director at The Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: “This is a staggering figure and taxpayers will be furious.
“The public sector unions have opposed much-needed reform on pay and pensions, often with industrial action, and that they’ve done it on the taxpayers’ tab simply cannot stand.
“Unions have every right to exist, but they should fund their activities with voluntary membership fees not the hard-earned money of Yorkshire taxpayers with no choice in the matter.”
New accounting rules due to take effect next month will see councils forced to publish annual union spending details.