Union fees under spotlight

Union members campaign in Wigan town centre
Union members campaign in Wigan town centre

Council officials have defended the role of trade unions amid criticism of the amount of taxpayers’ money paid to them by town halls.

The TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA) said councils across the country had spent an estimated £14.6m “subsidising” unions in recent years.

The figures were for both staff who split their employment between the two and on “facility time”, such as receiving office space free of charge or paid time-off taken by trade union representatives to carry out union duties.

The research estimated Wigan had paid more than £300k since 2012/13 and the town hall had declined to reveal how many officers worked for trade unions at least 50 per cent of the time.

The TPA added the estimated £14m would be enough to fix more than 275,000 potholes, for example.

Alex Wild, research director of the TPA, 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.”

Council HR director Sonia Halliwell gave a robust defence of the role of unions in ensuring the council is a “great place to work”.

The council indicated its own estimates were that union activities cost is around £100,000 per year.

Ms Halliwell told the Wigan Post: “Trade unions play a fundamental part in making councils like Wigan a great place to work and keeping staff engaged.

“We see that the work unions do plays its part in providing outstanding services for residents across Wigan borough.”