Francis Maude is the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General.
As the Minister responsible for Whitehall efficiency, it’s my mission to cut the cost of government and ensure that the Civil Service is lean and efficient. Last year alone, we saved taxpayers £10 billion thanks to work led by my Department’s Efficiency and Reform Group. There’s much more to come as part of this Government’s long-term plan to cut the deficit and get the country back on the rise.
When I came to office three and a half years ago, there were many things that shocked me – and one was how much taxpayers were paying for civil servants to work on trade union activities and duties. Under Labour, there was no proper central monitoring or control of taxpayer-funded trade union representation. Taxpayers expect their hard-earned money to be spent on funding public services. They don’t expect civil servants to spend years doing nothing but trade union representation at public expense.
Trade unions can play an important role in the workplace – they can serve the interests of both union members and their employers. Earlier this Parliament, Danny Alexander and I worked closely with several trade union leaders when we negotiated changes to public sector pensions. Those changes, which strike a fairer balance for these pensions between employee contributions and funding from other taxpayers, will save the country hundreds of billions of pounds over the coming decades. It was one of the single biggest things we did to get our country’s long-term finances in order.
Labour allowed taxpayer-funded trade union representation in the Civil Service to let rip. My first step was to find out exactly what was going on. We mapped trade union representation, poring over spreadsheets and running a fine toothcomb through departmental data. This took longer than we had hoped. Every time we thought we had counted every last trade union representative, another public body would come forward (more or less sheepishly) to reveal more staff time or more public money being spent on this.
We discovered that there were – at the public’s expense – over 6,700 civil servants working part-time on trade union representation ,and around 250 doing full-time work. More shocking still, we found that some full-time trade union representatives had been promoted – one of them twice! – without ever doing the Civil Service job for which they had been employed. That’s hardly fair on other civil servants. It just goes to show how far Labour let the trade unions get out of hand.
Once we could track down what was going on, we introduced new controls. Now no-one can spend more than half their time at work as a trade union representative without the specific consent of the minister running their departments. Today’s figures show that the number of full time-trade union representatives is now less than a fifth of the level in 2011. Labour left around 200 full-time representatives at public expense in the Civil Service alone (more if you count those in Scotland). Now there are just 37 in central Government and I fully expect that number to continue to drop.
Labour left the taxpayer spending 0.26 per cent of the Civil Service paybill subsidising trade unions. I’ve set a new standard that this should be brought down below 0.1 per cent. All but three departments have already met this tough new benchmark, meaning we have taken down costs as a proportion of paybill by two thirds. My department and the Treasury are leading by example – spending less than a tenth of the benchmark.
As a result of these tough controls we have already saved £17 million off last year’s bill and we are on track to save at least £21 million next year. This is good news for taxpayers but it’s also evidence that the Civil Service is adopting the kind of employment practices that are the norm in both the private sector and much of the wider public sector. There’s more to come as all departments introduce the new arrangements.
My department will publish updated data tomorrow which will allow everyone to hold us to account for the taxpayers’ money we spend on trade union representation. Costs are already half what they were under Labour, but there’s no room for complacency.
Since 2010 the Civil Service has shrunk by over 15 per cent to its smallest level since World War Two, and it’s on course to be 25 per cent smaller than it was under Labour. A smaller, more efficient Civil Service – doing more and doing things more cheaply. It’s all part of our long-term economic plan for the country.