A NEW row has broken out over County Hall bosses paying for staff to take time off for trade union duties.

Seven Lancashire County Council staff get paid £140,000 a year between them to spend most of their time representing their trade unions.

The dispute broke out just days after the authority’s ruling cabinet approved the closure of libraries and community centres to save cash.

On Thursday the senior councillors rubber stamped the shutting and potential sale of 100 buildings, many in Burnley, Hyndburn, Ribble Valley, Rossendale, Pendle and Chorley.

Furious Ribble Valley Tory MP Nigel Evans immediately called for the authority to be scrapped.

Now county Conservative opposition leader, County Cllr Geoff Driver, has attacked its Labour administration for spending £140,000-a-year on the salaries of virtually full-time trade union officials.

His criticism follows the revelation that seven county staff were ‘accredited’ to assist unions with their duties at a cost between April 2014 to April this year of £288,983.37.

County Cllr Driver said: “Paying seven staff costing over £140,000 a year to work full time on Trade Union matters demonstrates yet again that Labour have got their priorities totally wrong.

“I’m sure the people of Lancashire would agree with me that their council tax would be better spent keeping libraries open or safeguarding victims and survivors of domestic violence.”

His claims angered county finance boss, County Cllr David Borrow and UNISON branch secretary Elaine Cotterell who pointed out the situation was unchanged from when County Cllr Driver and the Tories ran the authority.

The county council is making cuts of more than £200m by 2020/21.

On Thursday, the cabinet approved proposals to spend £800,000 to support the nine women’s refuges in the county.

County Cllr Borrow said: “The trade union officials referred to perform a valuable function in assisting the smooth running of the authority particularly when we are in the process of changing job descriptions and making redundancies.

“They also deal with other key issues such as health and safety.

“The position is unchanged from when County Cllr Driver was leader of the council.

“We saved buildings and services wherever we could and approved a package of support for women’s refuges in the face of massive savings needed because of massive Whitehall grant cuts imposed by this Tory government.”

Ms Cotterell said: “Our trade union officials do a valuable job assisting the efficiency of the county council particularly at time of job cuts.

“They combine their trade union duties with the normal jobs, just as they did when the Conservative group controlled the council.”