By Kaye Wiggins at Lambeth Town Hall
Labour councillors in Lambeth last night defended the council’s decision to
spend around £500,000 per year on employing trade union officials.
Figures published by the council show it spends £317,517 per year on
salaries, pensions and costs for the equivalent of 9.7 full-time staff from
the unions Unison, GMB and Unite and a further £141,411 to support the
equivalent of 2.6 full-time staff from teaching unions.
The Conservative councillor John Whelan raised the issue at a meeting of
the council in Lambeth town hall in Brixton last night. He tabled a motion
that said, “it is intrinsically unfair for Lambeth taxpayers to be
shouldering this bloated burden for political activists whose unions pay
89p for every £1 given to the Labour Party nationally.”
However, Labour councillor Jackie Meldrum, the deputy leader of the
council, said at the meeting that union staff “provide a useful role in a
period of dramatic change.” Meldrum also defended the council’s union
employees, saying some had worked at the council for more than 30 years.
Union representatives were “working people who pay their taxes,” she said
at the meeting.
Meldrum tabled a long list of amendments to Whelan’s motion, so that it
said employing union officials was “a cost effective way to deal with
industrial relations in the workplace.” It also said the council did not
“pay a penny towards the political activity of unions” and believed
“working with the trade unions is beneficial and can result in improved
business performance”. The motion was passed in its amended form.
Also at the meeting the Liberal Democrat councillor Jeremy Clyne tabled a
motion that criticised the council for its forecast overspend of £5m.
However, the Labour councillor Paul McGlone, the council’s cabinet member
for finance and resources, made an amendment that said the £5m figure was
“much improved” from the £14.7m overspend that had been projected in the
council’s finance review in July. It said the council aimed to eliminate
the projected overspend before the end of the financial year.
It also said the council “condemns the coalition government’s slashing of
the borough’s finances by a third amounting to £94.5m by 2014/15, with
‘front loaded’ cuts of £37m this year alone.”
At the meeting, McGlone’s amendment was passed.