Councils 'spend £15m on staff union time'

NEARLY £15m is paid to council staff to take facility time for carrying out union-related duties, according to new research.

The TaxPayers' Alliance said 371 local authority staff spent at least 50 per cent of their time working for unions, which in some cases have also benefitted from free office space.  

The LGA said that local government is going through "immense change" and facility time for union delegates is necessary to engage with and inform staff. 

The total amount of paid facility time was at least £14.6m. Birmingham City Council spent the most at £1.1m, followed by Leeds City Council (£502,095).

However, it added that almost a third of the local authorities analysed did not publish data on their union involvement, in contravention of the law.

The pressure group also said that many councils do not make data easily available and the most recently available data varies by year. Some of the most recent figures in its report went back to 2012-13, while some cover 2015-16, meaning the real cost of facility time could be much higher.

"Trade unions are voluntary bodies of members and so should only receive the support of those members, not taxpayers," said Alex Wild, research director of the TaxPayers' Alliance.

"A huge amount continues to fund union duties, often without the express knowledge or consent of taxpayers, which simply isn't right.

"At a time when every part of the public sector has to make necessary savings, tens of millions of pounds cannot be wasted on subsidising political campaigns at the expense of hard-pressed families."

Cllr Claire Kober, chair of the Local Government Association's Resources Board, said: "Local government is going through a period of immense change in response to unprecedented pressures. Councils would find it impossible to do this without the hard work and engagement of staff.

"Proper discussion and consultation with staff requires the use of reasonable facility time by union representatives and so some reasonable expenditure is inevitable. Councils are taking steps to ensure that the system is always used properly."