THE cost of industrial action at Southampton City Council is mounting as workers ditch their own cars for taxis.

    The industrial action is landing the Tory-run council with a growing taxi bill of tens of thousands of pounds as staff refuse to use their owns cars in protest at mileage rates being cut from up to 54p to the 45p rate.

    A council insider said that up to 80 taxis a day were being hired by social workers to make their rounds, in a bonanza for local taxi firms.

    One round trip to Lee-on-the-Solent is said to have cost £140. A city centre cabbie claimed that he had never made so much money in his life.

    Care workers and other staff are taking taxis where public transport such as buses is not practical.

    Striking parking wardens will be joined for a further seven-day walkout tomorrow by Itchen Bridge toll collectors.

    And some 2,600 members of the Unison and Unite unions will begin a third week of working to rule and refusing overtime in the escalating dispute over proposed cuts to pay and conditions.

    As rotting rubbish piles up across the city, with growing fears of maggot and rat infestations in the hot weather, the council’s bin men will walk out out for a third time from Wednesday in a sevenday stoppage. Keith Sonnett, deputy general secretary of Unison, warned last week that the strikes could end up costing the council millions of pounds.

    Southampton City Council’s finance boss, Councillor John Hannides, said managers were making sure that the most “cost effective” public transport was being used by staff refusing to use their own cars, adding: “There is unlikely to be a blank cheque.”

    Unite convenor Mark Wood said that some council workers had to buy a second car to do their jobs, and that mileage rates barely covered the costs of running their own cars, if at all.

    About 4,300 council workers have been threatened with the sack if they don’t sign up to pay cuts of between two and 5.5 per cent by July 11.

    The council says that the cuts would protect 400 jobs and help make £25m of budget savings over the next year.

    Union members will march from Hoglands Park to rally outside the Civic Centre next Monday.

    Talks aimed at resolving the dispute through the mediation service ACAS are planned for later this month, although unions have accused the council of stalling and say that they are prepared to meet any time.