A cash-strapped local authority is under fire over plans to spend around £15,000 on a lavish painting of the city's lord provost.

Glasgow City Council, which is having to make savings of around £42 million in the next financial year, has commissioned the portrait from an artist used by royalty and the Tory Party.

The decision comes in spite of the council in Edinburgh reversing a plan to fund a painting of its own provost.

The Labour administration in Glasgow has in recent years made a series of tough decisions to reduce spending.

Nearly 2000 employees have left their posts as part of the council spending around £32.7m on voluntary early retirement deals.

A chunk of next year's cuts will be found from not replacing departing staff – a move that could impact on service quality.

However, the council's priorities have again been questioned after it emerged that scarce resources were to be spent honouring its Lord Provost, Labour's Bob Winter.

When cash is not in short supply, the city council generally commissions a painting of its outgoing civic figurehead.

When hard times fall, officials opt for the cheaper option of a photograph.

Councillors and trades unionists are enraged that, in the middle of a global economic downturn, Glasgow has sanctioned the more lavish option for Winter.

Officials have picked Scots artist Anne Mackintosh to produce a framed portrait of Winter.

Mackintosh's previous commissions include Baroness Thatcher, John Major and current Prime Minister David Cameron.

She has a hand-written thank you note from Thatcher, while she was quoted saying of Cameron: "I told him he had wonderful skin."

She has also painted former Tory Scottish Secretaries Ian Lang, Michael Forsyth and Sir Malcolm Rifkind. Other subjects have included the Duchess of York, HM King Hussein of Jordan and various members of the aristocracy. She also painted the late Donald Dewar and John Smith.

In 2001, it was reported that Mackintosh charged around £15,000 for a full-length picture.

Of the last seven provosts, three have settled for photographs instead of paintings.

The cost to the taxpayer of commissioning a painting of Winter's predecessor, Liz Cameron, was £17,000.

A council spokeswoman said Mackintosh had asked for the cost of the painting not to be disclosed due to "commercial confidentiality".

The portrait has already been completed.

The decision to give Winter a grand send-off comes after the council in Edinburgh shelved plans to spend £30,000 on artworks of the current lord provost and his predecessor. Officials had been set to spend £15,000 on a painting of incumbent George Grubb and the same amount on a stained-glass window of former provost, Lesley Hinds.

A Glasgow City Council spokeswoman said: "Since the early 19th century, the council has commissioned portraits of out-going lord provosts.

"They are part of the city's art collection and are hung in public view in the City Chambers portrait gallery.

"In the case of Lord Provost Bob Winter, Anne Mackintosh was commissioned to produce a framed portrait."

David Meikle, the city's only Tory councillor, said it was extraordinary that the council "thinks it appropriate to spend this much on a painting when the council is facing cutbacks and some of his predecessors settled for a photograph. The Labour administration should stop wasting public money and provide leadership".

Martin Doran, an organiser at the GMB trade union, said: "This sort of spending is galling and beggars belief. Staff will be shaking their heads in disbelief at the callousness of such a decision."