East Anglia: Anger as public purse pays out more than �750,000 towards cost of trade unions

PUBLIC sector bodies across the region paid more than �750,000 towards trade union representation for their staff last year according to new figures.

The largest expenditure came from Suffolk County Council which spent �303,415 on supporting union officials according to the TaxPayers’ Alliance.

The smallest figure was �824 paid by Babergh council – although some authorities, including Mid Suffolk, Colchester and Tendring, did not release any figures.

Essex County Council spent �155,808 on union representatives, and Essex Police spent �129,840. Suffolk police spent �57,707.

Nationally the TPA says public bodies spent �113million on trade union activities – and 3,041 staff were employed as trade union organisers and their salaries paid by public bodies.

The Department of Work and Pensions pays for 272 full-time union employees, while the largest local authority employer is Birmingham City Council with 72 union staff on its wage bill.

Suffolk County Council insisted it had reduced the amount of money it spent on union officials by 25% over the last year.

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Deputy leader Jane Storey, who is responsible for finance, said: “While we recognise the importance of working closely with unions while the organisation goes through significant change, we have to acknowledge that this is taxpayers’ money and must do everything we can to ensure it is spent appropriately.

“It’s important that we strike the right balance between meeting our legal duties to employees and managing costs.

“I feel that we’re striking the right balance at the moment.”

Ipswich Conservative MP Ben Gummer said it was not right for public bodies to pay trade unions because part of their work was political, giving financial support to the Labour Party.

He said: “It is right that they should be able to support their members, but their activities should be paid for by the subscriptions of members, not from the taxpayers.”

However Labour leader of Ipswich council David Ellesmere said the union officials had a vital role: “Their presence has probably saved much more money than it cost.”

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