Unite, the Union, has an army of full time officials whose salaries are paid by the taxpayer. They sit in separate office buildings provided by the state. There is supposed to be some restriction on them spending their time on political activities – but in practice checks seldom take place.
Central Government needs to do more to tighten up this spending. Why, for instance, does the Ministry of Defence fund 21 Unite officials' salaries? Is the Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, convinced that this represents value for money to the taxpayer for the £613,000 a year spent?
However, it is in local government, where the spending cuts have been sharpest, that the abuse is most striking. Unite is not the principal recipient of this largesse – others such as Unison and the National Union of Teachers also do well out of it. But it certainly represents an important resource for Unite to draw upon in promoting far left causes in the Labour Party and beyond.
Falkirk Council funds a member of staff to spend a third of his time on union matters. Lewisham Council is more generous funding someone for 60% of their time to work for Unite – at a cost of £25,711. Birmingham City Council pays for 8.5 full time equivalent Unite officials. Coventry has five. Nottingham funds 4.35. Walsall funds three. Bristol funds two as does Doncaster, Newham and Manchester. Greenwich funds 2.25, Kirklees 2.6, Wirral two, Hackney 1.9, Southampton 1.6, Swansea 1.4. Leeds funds a full time Unite post as does Knowsley, Wrexham and Leicester.
It is not just Labour councils, of course. Bromley funds 0.6 full time equivalents, Croydon funds 2.6.
These are all figures from the Taxpayers Alliance's Freedom of Information requests for 2011/12. Many may have since reduced their spending in this area. However, there were many others who did not even record how many staff were paid to work for unions. The big picture is that Council Taxpayers are funding hundreds of Unite union officials and thousands from other unions.
This is something that should stop. Even if the Conservatives are in opposition in a Council they should seek to end it with a motion at their next full council meeting. Labour councillors sponsored by the unions would not be able to vote given their prejudicial interest. The motion should resolve to end trade union "facility time" financed by the Council, to cease providing trade unions with office accommodation, and to cease collecting the membership subs for the trade unions.
That would be good for the Council Taxpayer, but it would also be good to put the unions on an independent, self financing footing rather than their being a branch of the state. It would also reduce the scope for those seeking to infiltrate and subvert the Labour Party to promote extremism. In the interests of democracy, that is a service to Ed Miliband that councillors of all parties should be happy to provide.