City tops league for union spend

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SHEFFIELD Council spends more than any other local authority in the country on the wages of full-time trade union officials - with an annual bill to the taxpayer of more than half a million pounds.

The council’s bill during 2010/11 was £504,585 to pay for 18 officials, more than £120,000 higher than the bill for any other authority.

Second-placed is Newham, in London, which spent £380,562 during the same 12 months, followed by Leeds, which spent £348,274.

John Mothersole, chief executive at Sheffield Council, said: “If our expenditure is showing itself to be out of line compared with the national average, we will look at it.

“The reason we allow workers to serve as full-time union officials is long-standing and is designed to allow the workforce to be fully-represented at what is a very large authority.

“But the comparison with other areas shows this issue needs to be looked into.”

Although Sheffield’s bill is high, the average paid to each union official - £28,032.50 per year - was lower than at Newham, where there were just nine full-time officials paid an average of £42,284.66.

But the average wages paid by Sheffield to each official were higher than at third-placed Leeds Council, which paid £23,218 in individual salaries. The figures were released following requests to councils across the country under the Freedom of Information Act.

Some 319 of 429 councils replied, 132 of which pay full-time union officials.

The total salary bill for full-time union officials at local councils which responded to the Freedom of Information Act request was £35 million in 2010/11, plus a further £2 million for providing unions with additional council resources.

Local Government Minister Grant Shapps said: “These figures reveal how over the past decade Labour stuffed Town Halls full of compliant union barons who are sucking money away from vital services while at the same time planning politically-motovated propaganda against the spending cuts.”

Mark Keeling, full-time convenor for the Unite union at Sheffield Council, said: “It’s a case of lies, damned lies and statistics. There aren’t 18 full-time officials at Sheffield Council - 2010/11 is when extra shop stewards helped with negotiations during the review of pay and grading.

“The actual number is nine and when we go on union duty we’re worse off than colleagues because we receive basic salary and no overtime.”