UNIONS are preparing for clear the air talks with council chiefs in Southampton who they accused of trying to “destroy” them under the outgoing Tory administration.

Meetings next week between the unions, new Labour leaders and senior officers will attempt to end to 12 months of industrial action by council workers.

They will also discuss how Labour will meet its pledges to restore staff pay cuts from next year and avoid any more compulsory redundancies.

Unison branch secretary Mike Tucker said the main objective was to “clear the air” and restore industrial relations.

In a message to union members after Labour's landslide election victory he said: “The Conservatives and their supporters amongst the senior managers in the council have, over the last four years, tried to destroy the trade unions. It is they who are now history.”

He said: “We believe a number of senior managers supported the methods and objectives of the Conservatives in terms of trying to undermine the legitimacy of the trade unions.”

Unite regional organiser Ian Woodland added: “There is quite a task to rebuild industrial relations to a level that both sides enjoyed until two or three years ago. We are optimistic we can deal with this in a professional businesslike manner now there has been a change of leadership.”

A £12m legal claim brought by the unions over a failure by the council to fully consult on last summer's sign-up or be dismissed pay cuts would also be discussed, Mr Tucker said.

But he added union members would have the final say over any deal to resolve the claim.

Conservatives imposed pay cuts of two to 5.5 per cent to make budget cuts while protecting 400 jobs. It provoked 12 weeks of rolling strikes by bin men and others council workers alongside ongoing work-to-rule industrial action.

Tory councillor Royston Smith, who ends his two year leadership of the council today, had also threatened to withdraw taxpayer funding for union officials at the council.

Cllr Smith said: “The unions' behaviour has always been and continues to be disgraceful and to stoop so to attacking impartial officers just sums up how they've behaved throughout.”

Labour will formally take full control of the council today facing a £46m budget black hole over the next two years.

New council leader Richard Williams said his first priority would be to “rebuild our relationship with the staff”.

The council's chief lawyer Mark Heath said senior council managers were required by law to be politically impartial and apolitical in the way they carry out their roles.

“As monitoring officer for Southampton City Council, I am confident that the council's senior officers have been and will continue to be scrupulously apolitical and will carry out their jobs to the best of their abilities whichever administration is in power.”