TORY heavyweight Eric Pickles claimed to have rung in a new era of town hall “transparency” yesterday but instead launched a barefaced attack on trade unions.
The Communities Secretary boasted that he had “empowered an army of armchair auditors” to snipe at council spending as new rules forcing the publication of costs went live.
Freedom of information campaigners said the “transparency code” contained some “helpful” measures such as listing headline summaries of outsourcing deals costing £5,000 or more.
But while Campaign for Freedom of Information director Maurice Frankel said this was a step “in the right direction” he added that it did nothing to scrutinise the performance of privateers once a contract had been signed.
“If you want to know how a contractor is going about it — are they cutting corners” that information remains shrouded in secrecy, he explained.
And Mr Pickles himself made no attempt to hide his main target — trade union rights.
“Trade union activities should be paid for by union subscriptions, not bankrolled by the taxpayer,” he declared.
His armchair army has “a right to know how much of their money is being spent on subsidising council workers to act as union officials,” he said.
Under the new rules councils will now publish the number of staff who are union reps, including those who help with on-the-job learning and health and safety, as well as the names of trade unions represented in the local authority.
And they will be forced to tot up the number of hours spent by staff on union activities.
But cost savings estimated by the Trades Union Congress to be over £700m a year will go unrecognised.
Mr Pickles’s claims were angrily rejected by public-sector union Unison head of local government Heather Wakefield.
“Trade union representatives are not funded to work for their unions,” she said.
“HR staff are dependent on Unison for training reps and ensuring they have expertise in such things as job evaluation and health and safety.”
She added: “Union reps are often the people who have to convey councils’ bad news and deal with the fallout.”