Borders council spending £90,000 a year on union reps' wages

Scottish Borders Council's headquarters in Newtown St Boswells.Scottish Borders Council's headquarters in Newtown St Boswells.
Scottish Borders Council's headquarters in Newtown St Boswells.
Hard-up Scottish Borders Council is being forced to pay out almost £90,000 a year funding trade union officials, it has revealed.

Public-sector staff are allowed time off to work for unions, with some even being seconded full time to carry out such duties, and their salaries and the facilities they use are paid for by their employers while fulfilling such duties.

Council bosses here pay 33 staff to carry out work for unions on a part-time and ad-hoc basis, they have revealed in response to a freedom-of-information request.

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That adds up to the equivalent of 5.5 full-time staff, generating a wage bill of £89,630.

Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk MP John Lamont is unhappy about that use of taxpayers’ money and is calling on unions to foot more of the bill for work carried out on their behalf.

“At a time when public finances at the council are so squeezed, these figures will come as a surprise to many,” said Mr Lamont.

“It is correct that the public sector works closely with trade unions, and it may be appropriate for some public money to be spent on this, but forking out nearly £100,000 a year and allowing more than 30 members of staff time off for trade union work doesn’t seem like value for money.

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“I’d hope that Scottish Borders Council will review these arrangements to make sure they represent value for money for taxpayers.

Trade unions receive donations from wealthy individuals and from their members, so they shouldn’t be relying on cash-strapped councils.

“If the unions can afford to pay their bosses’ extortionate salaries, they should really be paying for their own staff.”

A spokesperson for the Newtown-based council said: “As is the case for any employer, Scottish Borders Council has a legal obligation to allow representatives of recognised trades unions reasonable time off to undertake trade union activities.

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“In common with other public sector bodies and in line with Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service guidance, this time off is paid.

“The facility time arrangements were agreed after consultation with the recognised trades unions and are beneficial in the maintenance of positive employee relations.

“The arrangements are kept under review.

“While there are a total of 33 trades union representatives across the organisation, the vast majority of representatives have little or no time off for trade union activities.”