Speaking to a Freedom Association fringe meeting during the Conservative Conference in Birmingham, the Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles said:
"I am delighted to announce today in relatively short time we will be offering advice to local authorities both in terms of trade union time and check-off. I want to retain the independence of trades unions and therefore it is massively important that they pay for things themselves."
This is most welcome. It is not just the abuse of taxpayer funded union officials but also the provision of free office space belonging to the taxpayer and the state collecting union subs via the payroll.
The former Defence Secretary Liam Fox said at the same meeting:
At the Ministry of Defence in our first year of government, 2010-2011, we had to make some very difficult and painful decisions because of the financial catastrophe left behind by Labour – both in the Department and in the country more generally. Allowances were reviewed, spending programmes cut back and both military and civilian numbers were sadly reduced.
Yet in the same year, in this one department, 423 civil servants carried out what they called "trade union responsibilities" at a cost to the taxpayer, and the MoD budget, of £3.9 million. This is an absolute disgrace. That money could have been spent on improving service accommodation or allowances or manpower. It was instead spent on trade union officials who – and wait for this – unbelievably have the right to e-mail every single person involved in the MoD. My own Special Advisers and my own Private Office were receiving e-mails from the unions telling us how wicked our own policies were and why they should be resisted.
Mr Fox also produced evidence that the "Facility Time allocations – the delightfully obtuse name for official trade union activities" is boosted by unions such as the PCS making "a 40% exaggeration of the actual number of members they actually serve."
The situation is intolerable and it must be changed. Why, I ask you, should anyone in the public sector get paid time off for union activities at all? The trade unions are not poor. They are perfectly capable of building up a £100 million war chest for strike funds or giving £10 million a year to the Labour Party to prevent it going bankrupt. Why is it that they alone should continue to receive free offices from which to conduct their business with the rent paid for by the taxpayer? Why should their union subs be deducted by payroll at source, again paid for by the taxpayer and at no cost to the unions themselves? Why is it, when everyone else is making sacrifices, that they should regard themselves as untouchable?
As I have stated before it would be better for unions to collect their own subs. In a free society the trade unions are independent of the state. But if councils are going to collect them for the unions they should certainly charge a fee. Councils should ensure those they taking money from that they have the right to opt out of the Political Levy.