Earlier this year, the Conservative-led coalition running Reading Borough Council since May 2010 discovered that the former Labour administration had spent an eye-watering £1.4million of council tax payers’ money over the last 12 years paying the salaries of three full-time union officials. This caused a real stir in Reading.
I raised the issue at Prime Minister’s Questions on January 26 to which the Prime Minister responded:
“…It seems that in local government the Labour politicians pay the unions, whereas in national politics the unions pay for the Labour politicians. It’s nice work if you can get it!”
In order to find out just how widespread this practice of funding full-time union officials with tax payers’ money was, 429 councils across the country were requested to provide the following information as part of a survey under the Freedom of Information Act:
- The number of council-paid employees working full-time on trade union business during the years 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11
- The aggregate salary bill for these employees over the same period
- The estimated annual cost of any other resources used by council officials working full time on trade union business (office space, telephone etc.) for each of the three years
Of the 429 councils, 319 councils responded to the FOI request. Of these 319 councils, 132 had a paid full-time union official in at least one of the last 3 years whilst 187 did not. As of April 27, 110 councils had not responded to the Freedom of Information request, well over twenty working days after it was made, including Manchester City Council and Nottingham City Council.
The total salary bill over the three year period for full-time union reps was £35 million. This does not include the cost of employing someone else to do the job vacated by the union reps. A further £2 million has gone on the cost of providing additional council resources.
Interestingly, as the list below shows, of the Top 10 spending councils, 9 are Labour-led.
(Some councils only provided figures for the number of Full Time Equivalents in which case this figure has been used; all figures have been rounded to the nearest whole pound)
I believe it is right that trade union members working for a council are represented by their union. However, this cannot be at the cost of hard-working council taxpayers up and down the country and many will share the view that any salaries paid to full-time union officials should be paid for by individual unions through union subscriptions, not by council tax payers.
In Reading, the Conservative-led coalition has quite rightly decided to stop funding the full-time trade union salaries. Reading’s Labour group is however unrepentant. Should they get back into control on 5th May, they appear to have every intention of re-instating these payments.
£1 in every £5 of council tax is already being spent in Reading to pay back the £200 million of council debt left by Labour in 2010. The last thing Reading’s council tax payers need is another bill from the unions.