Trade Union Bill

Written evidence submitted by the TaxPayers’ Alliance (TUB 11)

Who we are

1. The TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA) is an independent, non-partisan organisation, set up in 2004, which scrutinises public spending and campaigns for lower taxes, less government waste, better value for taxpayers and further transparency from government.

Summary

2. The TPA generally welcomes the reforms included in the Trade Union Bill, having consistently voiced concerns about the unfairness of present arrangements. We certainly believe it is wrong for taxpayers’ money to be spent often unchecked on trade union activity, only for us to be rewarded with strikes and disruption.

3. There are two areas in particular where the bill has our full support;

§ in addressing the lack of transparency around facility time;

§ legislating against check-off payments (not in the original bill, but announced by Matt Hancock MP, Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, as something to be introduced during the bill's passage through Parliament).

4. Our submission explores both these issues in detail citing our own independent research.

5. But there are areas in which the bill can be further improved. Currently public sector bodies are not required to record the amount of office space given to trade unions. The TPA believe that trade unions should have to cover the cost of their office space and equipment – rooms, telephones, internet etc – at their own expense and not that of the taxpayer.

6. While there is much we believe is good in the bill, there are also areas which need to be rethought. Clause 9 states that unions will have to nominate a "picket supervisor" who will be the union representative to the police. This individual will have to;

§ give forward their name and telephone number to the police;

§ be in possession of a letter stating their authority;

§ produce the letter to any constable who asks to see it;

§ wear a badge or armband which identifies them as the "supervisor".

7. The TPA believes that this course of action is unnecessary and takes away from the good parts of the bill. We would, therefore, urge the Secretary of State to rethink Clause 9 as policy should be made on good analysis and not on political misgivings.

Facility time


8. The TaxPayers’ Alliance has produced three reports looking into facility time in the public sector, in 2011, 2012 and 2013. Additionally, in 2015 a report solely looking at the issue in Northern Ireland was released.


9. Since the information is not as yet widely published, producing the reports required extensive use of freedom of information requests to government departments, local authorities, public corporations, non-departmental public bodies, NHS trusts, police forces and fire and rescue services.


10. The findings of the 2013 report emphasise the importance, not just of greater transparency, but also the need for more diligence and robust monitoring of facility time from public sector employees. The report found that in the 2012-13 financial year, at least 2,871 full-time equivalent (FTE) staff worked on trade union duties at the expense of the taxpayer. At the time this was two and a half times the workforce of HM Treasury. A selection of the findings is below:

§ The organisation with the highest number of staff working for trade unions was the Department for Work and Pensions with 248 full-time equivalent staff. HMRC had the second highest number with 172 full-time equivalent staff;

§ Birmingham City Council was the local authority with the highest number of staff working for trade unions with 69 full-time equivalent staff working on trade union business. The second-placed local authority was North Ayrshire Council with 45 full-time equivalent staff;

§ The police force with the highest number of full-time equivalent staff working for the trade unions (not including the Police Federation) is the Metropolitan Police with 57 full-time equivalent staff;

§ The fire service with the highest number of full-time equivalent staff working for the trade unions is the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service with 78 full-time equivalent staff;

§ The other public bodies with the highest number of staff working for trade unions were Transport for London with 35 full-time equivalent staff, Scottish Prison Service also with 35 full-time equivalent staff and HM Land Registry with 19.1 fulltime equivalent staff.

11. This number was multiplied by the average salary and employer pension contributions of a public sector worker (£29,990 in 2012-13) to produce an estimate of the cost of facility time to taxpayers of £85 million.


12. However, given that 344 organisations did not record facility time, or only recorded it partially, we consider the figures to be an understatement. This includes 154 local authorities, 122 NHS trusts and 37 quangos.

13. The fact that we have not been able to determine a certain cost underlines the importance of increasing transparency in an area of concern for many taxpayers.

14. Since then, central government has started regularly publishing detailed information regarding the number of union representatives, the amount of facility time and the percentage of the pay bill this time represents for each department. The Local Government Transparency code also mandates local authorities to publish this information. The Trade Union Bill extends this approach to all public authorities with at least one employee who is a union official.


15. This is a welcome development which we strongly welcome.


Check-off

16. The 2013 report also revealed that 972 public sector organisations deducted membership subscriptions for trade unions. Of those, 213 (22 per cent) charged the union for the service. Charging arrangements ranged from a proportion of the cost of subscription of between 0.5 and 6 per cent, a flat charge per employee or a monthly fee charged to the union.

17. The cost of providing this service for unions is not possible to quantify, but given the ease with which payments can be made in the modern economy through the likes of direct debit, we can see no good reason why taxpayers should be expected to provide it.

Office Space


18. One area which we would like the bill to address is the use of public buildings for trade union duties. A report we released in October 2014 showed that unions were provided at least 273,753 ft2 of dedicated office space by public sector organisations. As with our research into facility time, we consider the figure to be an underestimate as many organisations do not measure the amount of office space provided to unions.

19. We identified:

§ 162,070 ft2 of floor space provided to unions by councils;

§ 59,999 ft2 of floor space provided to unions by NHS trusts;

§ 26,693 ft2 of floor space provided to unions by police forces;

§ 6,159 ft2 of floor space provided to unions by fire and rescue services

20. Charges of just £307,093 were identified for the use this office space. The equivalent amount of space would have an annual market value of £27.4 million in Central London, £8 million in Birmingham or Glasgow of £6.2 million in Cardiff.



21. Further to this, it was discovered that unions were being provided with the use of IT facilities and telephone at the expense of the taxpayers.


22. Guidance from the Department for Communities and Local Government issued in 2013 said that "political activity by unions should not be financed by council funds" and that "restrictions should be placed on the use of office facilities for trade union representatives." However it is clear that many local authorities are simply ignoring this advice.

23. The cheap or free provision of dedicated office space is a further taxpayer subsidy to trade unions.


24. We would like to see the government take steps to eliminate this through further amendments to the bill.

October 2015

Prepared 14th October 2015