Chief Reporter Paul Dale looks at the case of a Birmingham City Council union official paid #91,000 a year to stay at home

The name of Smith leaps out at the top of a Birmingham City Council wages sheet listing workers at the street lighting Direct Labour Organisation.

Next to his payroll number, is Mr Smith's basic pay – a hefty #70,804 a year.

Significantly more than a backbench MP gets and in line with, perhaps, a company director or a lawyer.

His basic salary would leave Mr Smith comfortably well off. But there are other additions still to come.

When overtime and stand-by payments are taken into account, Mr Smith's total pay during 2005/06 reached a staggering #91,482.

Way above the reach of a social worker, on about #20,000, or a teacher, on #25,000. Not bad for someone employed to mend street and traffic lights.

 Not bad, either, for someone who has been off sick for a year.

Mr Smith was absent for most of 2005/06, but continued to be paid in full – including stand-by payments. It has been a long time since Mr Smith clambered up a ladder to change a fuse or replace a bulb.

Ian Smith, although nominally working as a signals engineer at the DLO's Spring Lane Depot, Erdington, is in fact paid by the council to be a full time convenor for the union Amicus.

He has in the past led protests against the privatisation of council services.

Quite how a street light maintenance man could have managed to negotiate a basic wage of almost #71,000 is a question that, officially at least, city council officials are not prepared to discuss. Nor will they comment on why, given that Mr Smith no longer mends street lights, he is still entitled to a #15,668 annual payment reflecting his willingness to stand-by to be called into action for street light mending during unsocial hours.

A former Labour councillor, who began an unsuccessful attempt five years ago to investigate wage rates, recalls Mr Smith as being an important and influential figure at the DLO.

"He effectively ran the street lighting unit. When I wanted anything done, get a street light mended in my ward for instance, I used to ring Smithy and the work would be done almost immediately," the former councillor recalled.

The disclosure of Mr Smith's salary arrangements, contained in a leaked document listing wages and bonus payments for scores of manual workers, has infuriated the council unions. The list lifted the lid on a complex web of wage deals, negotiated over many years, which enables roadworkers to earn up to #1,000 a week.

 The leak could hardly have come at a more sensitive time for cabinet human resources member Alan Rudge, who has been attempting to deliver a Single Status deal, a new wage system reflecting equal pay for equal work. Relations with the unions, difficult at the best of times, are poisonous now.

As well as detailing payments to Mr Smith, the leaked paper revealed that another employee was paid #53,000 for painting white lines on the road while a third man, described as a bollard cleaner, was paid #37,000, including an #11,000 bonus. Three "gully emptiers" received #36,000.

Plans by Martin Mullaney, chairman of the transportation scrutiny committee, to launch a public inquiry into the bonus system have been put on ice following the direct intervention of council leaders.

Coun Rudge said negotiations with the unions were at an extremely sensitive stage.

The bonus system, described as an "extraordinary anomaly" by Coun Rudge, has in theory been on its last legs since 1997 when the incoming Labour Government announced its Single Status initiative. All councils were given ten years to introduce equal pay for equal work, which would mean treating, say, office cleaners on an equal basis to road workers.

The male roadworking force qualifies for hefty bonuses, in many cases amounting to #6,000 a year, paid regardless of performance, while the largely female office cleaning contingent are not paid bonuses – a clear example of discrimination under the Single Status rules.

The council has already been landed with scores of law suits from workers who say they have been discriminated against. Claims by women employees for the back-pay of bonuses amount to millions of pounds.

 Yesterday Mr Smith was not answering his mobile phone. Amicus was unavailable for comment.