An interesting survey from the Times Educational Supplement shows that some councils are cutting back on their subsidies to the teaching unions for "facility time" by up to 50%. This is the arrangement where staff have their salary paid by the Council Taxpayer even when they are working as full time union officials.
The academies expansion has prompted council's education departments to renegotiate as more money goes direct to schools rather than siphoned off on bureaucracy.
The TES report says:
Prime Minister David Cameron has publicly argued that "the current level of public subsidy to the trade unions cannot be sustained, either morally or economically".
New research by TES has revealed that local authorities spent more than £8.5 million on facility time for the education unions in 2011-12. But many of the 90 local authorities who responded, out of a total of 152, revealed significant cuts to their facility time budgets.
Rotherham has, for example, cut its funding by almost half, from £112,000 in 2010-11 to £57,000 the following year. Oldham Council cut its facility time budget by £23,000 in the same period, amounting to a 29 per cent reduction. Other authorities reporting considerable cuts
included Buckinghamshire (15 per cent), Hertfordshire (14 per cent) and Bolton (13 per cent).
Many of those who turn up at teaching union conferences will be full time union activists funded by Conservative-run councils.
The TES in an editorial reminds us of the flavour:
NUT boos moderates off stage at its conference for daring to suggest that the Earth is round, threatens strikes with the frequency that the Queen of Hearts lops off heads and generally makes the People's Front of Judea sound sensible.
It is, however, outclassed in sheer surrealism by the NASUWT..
New guidance is expected soon concerning "Pilgrims" across the public sector. (They are known as Pilgrims after Jane Pilgrim, a "nurse" protesting against the Government, who turned out to be a taxpayer funded union official.)
In March the Local Government Minister Robert Neill told Parliament:
At a time when all councils need to make sensible savings to protect front-line services and help tackle the deficit inherited from the last Administration, Ministers would urge councillors to review the subsidies and funding being provided to trade unions at taxpayers’ expense.
The Cabinet Office will shortly be consulting on a policy paper about how facility time can be reformed and reduced in the civil service. My Department will in due course provide specific guidance for local councils to help inform their own local reviews (reflecting the fact that it is for local councils, as employers, to decide how to manage their own local work forces).
We hope this guidance will give local authorities assurance and practical help on how they can review and cut back both so-called ‘pilgrims’ and the provision of hidden subsidies like free office facilities. However, a number of councils—such as Swindon and Southampton —have already undertaken reviews recently of facility time to cut costs, highlighting that councils already have discretion and powers to act without the permission of central Government.
We would encourage such matters to be debated openly in council meetings—with councillors declaring any prejudicial interests, such as receiving payments in kind from trade unions.
Councils should ensure that arrangements for collecting union subscriptions through the payroll do not burden taxpayers. We want to raise awareness of the fact that councils are already allowed under law to levy a local administration charge to trade unions for providing this service, or they simply can exercise their right not to offer this payroll facility.
My Department is currently considering the merits of issuing an updated local government transparency code to ensure greater transparency over payments to trade unions and facility time at taxpayers’ expense.
This is an issue I first raised on this blog four years ago. The following year I included it at numberr 41 on my seminal 100 ways to cut the Council Tax without cutting key services.
While the Government will lead by example and offer guidance, it is up to councils to act. They can't pretend to be unaware that an abuse is taking place.