Who should foot bill for union staff?

IPSWICH MP Ben Gummer’s attack on councils paying some or all the salary of full-time union officials has re-ignited a debate that has been simmering for years.

On one level he has a point – why should the council taxpayers pay union officials’ salaries. Surely they should be paid by their members.

After all, if they are paid by the council is there not a risk that they won’t be entirely impartial when it comes to negotiating with the council?

However I’m not convinced that Mr Gummer has chosen the best possible time to highlight this issue. I can’t help feeling that this is just the time when councils should be paying union officials.

Mr Gummer says that with councils facing budget cuts they simply cannot afford to spend tens of thousands of pounds a year on union salaries – and anyway rural districts like Babergh, Mid Suffolk and Suffolk Coastal don’t pay officials anyway.

But the fact is that at the moment jobs in local government are looking less secure than they have for decade – in fact no one can remember when they were more at risk.

In those circumstances staff will inevitably feel jumpy. They need their union representatives more than ever.

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There may be logic behind Mr Gummer’s call for councils to stop paying union officials, but if they were to turn around and do that now it really would look as if they were kicking their staff when they are down.

As for the argument that councils should not be paying for officials from an organisation that supports the Labour Party, again logically he has a point.

But in life, and especially in politics, you sometimes have to accept situations that are not ideal if they are better than the alternative.

Clearly Tory politicians at the county council and at the borough (at least until May) feel it is better to have good relations with their unions than it is to avoid paying money to their opponents.

Mr Gummer should remember that politics is the art of the possible.