Peterborough City Council paid £78,000 paid time-off for union representatives to carry out duties

Peterborough City Council news from the Peterborough Telegraph - peterboroughtoday.co.uk, @peterboroughtel on Twitter, Facebook.com/peterboroughtoday
Peterborough City Council news from the Peterborough Telegraph - peterboroughtoday.co.uk, @peterboroughtel on Twitter, Facebook.com/peterboroughtoday
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Peterborough City Council spent nearly £78,000 on paid time-off for trade union representatives to carry out union duties, according to its latest figures.

The 2015/16 total was highlighted in a report by the TaxPayers’ Alliance.

The council, it adds, employs two full-time employees who devote at least 50 per cent of their time to union activities.

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

“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.”

The TaxPayers’ Alliance is, in its own words, a “campaigning group dedicated to reforming taxes, cutting spending and protecting taxpayers.”

The group was reporting on ‘facility time’ to local authorities between 2012-13 and 2015-16.

Facility time is paid time-off taken by trade union representatives to carry out union duties.

Jo Rust, a regional director for UNISON in Peterborough, said its members are “worth their weight in gold” because they can save hundreds of hours being wasted and prevent the need for industrial action.

She said: “One of the really important things our trade union representatives who are getting paid time off do is negotiate with the employer to resolve issues at a low level and avoid the need for industrial action.

“The council and public sector employers are not legally entitled to just bring about change without talking to employees about it.

“Rather than talking to each individual employee, if they go to the staff representatives they can talk with, for example, 10 people and get agreement from the staff body.

“It cuts out the need to talk to thousands of employees.

“We save hundreds of hours of management time in resolving things at a low level.

“Rather than costing £78,000 a year, by allowing trade union representatives time off to undertake trade union duties saves Peterborough City Council over £100,000 a year.”

MP for Peterborough Stewart Jackson holds a different view, though.

He tweeted: “Shocking misuse of public money. Why don’t trades unions fund their own activities with own cash?”

A Peterborough City Council spokesman said: “The Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1992 gives trade unions and their members the legal right to take time off with full pay to undertake union duties.

“These figures relate to the 2015/16 financial year and when the 2016/17 figures are published in the coming weeks it will show that there is now only one full-time union representative at the council.

“There is a legal requirement to publish details of all trade union facility time and this can be found at www.peterborough.gov.uk.”

In 2015-16, according to the TaxPayers’ Alliance:

. The total amount spent on facility time by local authorities was at least £14,648,030.

. The average local authority saw at least 0.11 per cent of its wage bill go to trade unions, compared to just 0.04 per cent in the private sector.

. There were at least 371 full-time local authority staff members who worked for trade unions at least 50 per cent of the time.

. Almost a third of those local authorities analysed did not publish the data on their involvement with unions, in contravention of the law.

The two local authorities which spent the most on facility time were:

Birmingham City Council: £1,124,924

Leeds City Council: £502,095

Regional breakdown of the highest amount spent on facility time:

In the North East, Sunderland - £258,697.

In the North West, Bolton - £390,481.

In Scotland, City of Edinburgh - £244,576.

In the East Midlands, Leicester City Council - £494,544.

In the South West, Bristol City Council - £134,931.

In the East of England, Suffolk County Council - £189,741.

In London, Lambeth Borough Council - £281,000.

In the South East, Brighton and Hove City Council - £262,016.