Trade union officials at Birmingham City Council are costing taxpayers more than £1 million a year in wages.
The local authority has admitted it gives 106 employees paid leave to carry out union duties, either on a part-time or full-time basis.
The bill, amounting to £1.4 million, is met by council tax payers. But with hidden costs added, including the value of office accommodation, phone calls and stationery, the total is likely to be far higher.
The cost was described as “alarming” by city councillor Martin Mullaney, who uncovered the figures through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Coun Mullaney (Moseley & Kings Heath, Lib Dem), who wants a scrutiny committee to quiz union representatives to see whether they give value for money when carrying out their duties, said: “I’m not saying there is no role for full time union officials, but do we need this many and should the council be paying their wages?
“Why are we paying these people out of public money? Surely, the unions should be paying their full time officials.
“There should, at the very least, be an inquiry to see whether the council is getting value for money. This becomes even more important at a time when we are all being asked to tighten our belts.”
The council has given union representatives time off to carry out their duties for years, but this is the first time the cost has been revealed.
Two years ago, the council was at the centre of national criticism when it emerged a full-time Amicus union official was being paid £91,000 a year.
Ian Smith, a traffic light engineer, pocketed a basic salary of £71,000 and annual bonuses amounting to £20,000.
Cabinet human resources member Alan Rudge blamed the council’s previous Labour administration, which lost power in 2004, for allowing so many full time union positions.
Coun Rudge (Con Sutton Vesey) said: “We inherited this situation and there is very little we can do about it. If someone has had a contract to be a full time union official for 10 years then we have to honour that.”
He accepted that some officials “do a good job” in representing their members, but many union representatives were more interested in pursuing a national political agenda.
Coun Rudge added: “Some are far too political and are not representing their members’ best interests.
“We are controlling this as best we can but these people were in place before we took over.”
He said many private sector firms allowed union officials paid time off to carry out their duties, and added that the council’s 106 union reps amounted to less than one per cent of the total workforce.
Opposition Labour group leader and former council leader Sir Albert Bore (Lab Ladywood) said: “Just how long is Alan Rudge going to go on blaming me?
“He has been in power for four years now and he could change things if he wanted to.
“The fact is the council has had full time union officials for many years, pre-dating the Labour administration between 1984 and 2004.
“You need full time union officials in order to take through appropriate negotiations and Coun Rudge knows this full well.”