Sunderland council defends spending £250,000 in taxpayers’ cash on supporting unions

Sunderland Civic Centre
Sunderland Civic Centre
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Sunderland City Council spent more than £250,000 to provide union support for its staff last year.

Pressure group the TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA) has looked at the cost of ‘facility time’ - paid time off taken by trade union representatives to carry out union duties - to local authorities nationwide.

Sunderland City Council leader Paul Watson.

Sunderland City Council leader Paul Watson.

The research found that in the 2015-16 financial year, Sunderland spent £258,697 on union activities - more than any other North East council which provided figures.

The council had 9.2 members of staff who spent at last half their working time carrying out union duties and the cost was the equivalent of 0.12 per cent of the council’s total wage bill.

But Sunderland City Council leader Coun Paul Watson hit back at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, saying: “This is absolutely not about subsidising unions, this is the Taxpayers’ Alliance distorting public debate and lawful activity.

“In common with all employers which recognise trade unions, the council has a legal duty to grant employees paid or unpaid time off from their work duties.

A huge amount continues to fund union duties, often without the express knowledge or consent of taxpayers, which simply isn’t right.

Alex Wild

“This allows them to carry out reasonable and lawful trade union duties and activities.

“The council is also required to provide reasonable facilities for such duties and activities.

“By working closely with the unions, such as through collective bargaining, this council recognises the important role that unions play in representing a workforce.

“Once again, the alliance can count a cost but not recognise value for money.”

TaxPayers’ Alliance research Director Alex Wild 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.”

TPA research in 2014 showed that £108million of taxpayers’ money had gone to trade unions, both directly and through facility time. Unions have also benefited from office space provided free of charge.