Costly union reps

IT costs Calderdale residents £250,000 a year for the council to “employ” trades union representatives, according to Conservative councillors.

They want the money to be used to protect vital services and stave off increased charges for home care, car parking, sport and leisure services.

“Even union members, including those employed by the council, will consider it inappropriate for public money to be spent on what should clearly be funded by member subscriptions,” said Conservative group leader Stephen Baines.

But union officials say they provide a conduit for the council to communicate with its entire workforce and to scrap their positions would require a change in the law.

Councillor Baines (Northowram and Shelf) said the council was obliged to allow union officials reasonable paid time off to undertake their union-related duties.

“But it is not obliged to gold plate what it provides and we are firmly of the view that council taxpayers will not support about £250,000 of year of their money being used to pay union officials working on behalf of council employees,” he said. The council pays for a full time Unison convenor – Gary Firth – at a cost of £37,255 and £80,000 towards the costs of union representation in schools, which includes Calderdale’s NUT branch secretary, Sue McMahon.

“Further part-time union representation amounts to the equivalent of 5.4 full-time staff adding £135,700 to the bill,” he said.

Councillor Barry Collins (Lab, Illingworth and Mixenden) said: “The time to raise such issues was during the recent budget process.

“With the council having to find £15 million of cuts next year, the Conservatives failed to bring forward any money saving proposals whatsoever.”

Gary Firth , from Unison, said: “Given union membership in the council, we should have about 80 stewards and if everyone took the agreed 10 hours it would cost the council 800 hours of facility time whereas at the moment they provide a fraction of that.”

l What do you think? Are union jobs like this a vital part of democracy? Or should the unions pay for them? E-mail us: yoursay@ halifaxcourier.co.uk