TRADE unions are preparing for another battle with Tory council chiefs in Southampton who have threatened to withdraw taxpayer funding for union officials.

Union bosses are taking legal advice after Southampton council leader Royston Smith announced he wanted to end the funding of two full-time posts and stop giving unions use of council offices, worth up to £90,000 a year.

Unite regional officer Ian Woodland said members would see it as an “attack” on the union.

“We see it as a vindictive attack by Royston Smith out of revenge for what happened last year,” he said.

Unison regional organiser Andy Straker called it “beyond belief” and vowed: “We will fight it”.

The Unison and Unite unions are still in a dispute with the council over pay cuts of between two and 5.5 per cent imposed on thousands of council staff last July, sparking a summer of crippling strikes that left rubbish piling up across the city. They have launched a legal claim worth up to £12m.

Mr Woodland added the proposal made no financial sense as full time reps saved the council money through averting the costs of employment tribunals.

Neither Unison nor Unite has yet to receive formal notification of the proposal. It is understood council lawyers want to make sure they don’t open themselves up to a further legal challenge.

Councillor Smith said councils had a duty as employers to ensure value for money for the taxpayer.

“At a time when councils need to make difficult decisions about priorities many like us will rightly wish to review the merits of fulltime union officials funded by the taxpayer and the provision of office facilities to trade unions,” he said.

“There is no question of union officials being dismissed should this proposal be implemented merely, if it is, the agreement for their funding of full time roles will be withdrawn on appropriate notice – if any is needed.”

He said the council would consult on the proposal, stands by its legal obligations and the ACAS Code of Practice and would give time off for union officials to perform their duties.

He added: “In no way does this detract from the ongoing and fullest commitment to work with staff and its representative bodies.”