in times when belts are being tightened across the public sector some of the most compelling arguments against cuts are being made by the trade unions.
They have been at the forefront of efforts not just to save jobs – and therefore stand up for their own members – but also to defend the sort of services that so many people in our communities rely upon.
It will therefore seem odd to many observers that the unions are themselves taking so much money out of public funds.
As we reveal today, the city council, which is in the middle of a £90 million cost-cutting exercise, is paying out almost half a million pounds a year on workers who spend their time on trade union business.
That’s the equivalent of more than 17 full-time workers paid not to teach in schools or empty bins, but to attend meetings and lobby for the rights of union members.
This trend has already raised concern nationally, with right-wing commentators labelling such workers “Pilgrims” and questions being raised in parliament by Tory MPs.
It would be wrong, as some suggest, to ban the public service from letting officials spend time on union activity. Many private companies do so too, and in both sectors it can help employer/employee relations and defuse disputes.
But there must be limits, especially in cases where representatives work nearly full-time on union duties while earning public sector wages.
And serious questions need to be asked as to why our city council’s union “subsidy” is bigger than Liverpool’s and Newcastle’s, and is more than twice that of Aberdeen or even Glasgow.
Use your vote
A SMALL number of city voters will hold the destiny of the current council administration in their hands tomorrow – a very small number indeed, if dismal turnout predictions for the City Centre ward by-election are correct.
But the poll is vital as it could end the current Lib Dem/SNP coalition which runs the city – if one of the Labour, Tory, Green or Independent candidates is successful.
Very few votes split the five mainstream parties when the SNP took this council place in 2007 and, as the independent is standing on an anti-tram ticket, any result is possible.
This will be the last big test of how the current administration has been doing in the city – and it should not be treated as a poll on Alex Salmond or David Cameron’s governments, or Ed Miliband’s opposition.
But whatever your views, we simply urge those residents who are eligible to vote to get out and do so.