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Durham council's '£130,000-a-year' union support
A COUNCIL facing crippling cuts topping £200m is subsidising trade unions to the tune of £130,000 a year, it has been claimed.
Liberal Democrat Mark Wilkes slammed Labour-led Durham County Council for collecting union fees and providing office accommodation free of charge and paying wages for union staff.
The Framwellgate Moor councillor said: “I fail to see how this can be a correct use of council taxpayers’ money.
“It would be far better spent on protecting frontline services, or could provide funding for £1.3m of capital investment in our county in the coming year.”
On fees, Coun Wilkes said Durham collected £1.15m-a-year from its workforce for trade unions without charge, while other authorities demanded up to five per cent commission.
A “not unreasonable” charge of 2.5 per cent would raise nearly £30,000, he said.
Free office accommodation, including electricity and heating, is costing the council at least £5,000; and union staff wages cost nearly £100,000, he added.
In response, a council spokeswoman said the large majority of employers, including the Government, provided support to unions operating within their workplace.
“ACAS (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) advises that, where possible, employers should make available the facilities necessary for trade union representatives to perform their duties.
“The support we provide is in line with this guidance and best practice,” she added.
Council leader Simon Henig said he understood the arrangements had been in place for many years and claimed there was “remarkable similarity” between Coun Wilkes’ points and a speech given by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles at last year’s Conservative Party conference.
Mr Pickles denounced funding of union activity by the state as a form of stealth taxation and vowed to end “corrupt and unacceptable” union activities across the public sector.
“The local Liberal Democrats again closely following the lead of their Tory coalition partners,” Coun Henig said.
The row comes days before the council’s Labour cabinet is expected to reveal its proposed budget for the year ahead.
Finance chiefs expect to have to save £21m in 2013-14, and more than £200m between 2010 and 2017. The council’s spending power is forecast to fall by 5.5 per cent between 2013 and 2015.
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