CLAIMS that millions of pounds are being squandered, at a cost to the taxpayer, by unions – and the Police Federation in particular – have been vigorously denied.

Mark Botham, chairman of the Police Federation in North Yorkshire, made his robust response following a Freedom of Information request by Tory backbencher Dominic Raab.

Mr Raab found that more than 1,200 Home Office employees, police officers and border guards were given time off to work for trade unions and the Police Federation last year, at a cost of more than £7m.

The news triggered fresh concerns that public money and police time was being wasted at a time of acute pressure on the Home Office budget and renewed concern about law and order.

“Frontline officers do a tough job and we need to make sure they have the support they need,” said Mr Raab.

“Millions of pounds of public money is being squandered on union activities in our police forces and the Home Office.”

But Mr Botham, whose force has the biggest beat in the country, quickly pointed out that the federation was set up under statute to ensure the welfare and efficiency of the police.

He said an independent Royal Commission had recommended that full-time federation representatives should be introduced back in 1978.

“We are not a union, but a staff association for police officers, and currently we have over 138,000 members from the rank of constable to chief inspector,” he said.

“We represent members during grievances and welfare issues and act as the voice of rank-and-file officers.”

He pointed out that the Department of Trade and Innovation estimated the savings made through the Federation to the economy was between £476m and £1.1bn.

And he added: “If the Federation did not exist, these kinds of costs would be borne by the taxpayer.”

He went on: “Police officers are regularly involved in incidents in the course of their duty, which require legal representation, and normally this would be funded by their employer – in our case it would be the police authority.

“But if this liability, currently funded through Police Federation subscriptions, was passed over to the police authorities then it would cost them up to £10m a year.”