One unfortunate aspect of the EU referendum last year was the Government’s deal with the trade unions to shelve long overdue reforms in return for the unions campaigning for a Remain vote. That was discreditable. But so is the prevailing attitude among Conservative councils of continuing to allocate funds to the unions. There could be feeble concerns about being seen as “anti trade union” if the subsidies were cut off. That is misguided. Absorbing the unions into a branch of the state is unhealthy for all concerned. Some council officers may well find it convenient to deal in the grand corporatist manner. It is better to respect the workforce as individuals with a range of interests and opinions – some of whom might wish to be represented by trade unions, others who might prefer not to.
Some recent research by the Taxpayers Alliance details £14.7 million spent by local authorities on the salaries of union officials – “facility time” as it is called. It is quite reasonable to allow staff time off work – full time or part time – to serve as union officials. But there is no justification for the Council Taxpayer to pay for this time. After all the unions do charge membership subs. What is that money supposed to be for?
At least 371 local authority staff members work for trade unions at least 50 per cent of the time. That is an underestimate as a third of local authorities don’t publish the data – despite a legal requirement to do so. That £14.7 million spending is equivalent to the cost of fixing 276,728 potholes.
Naturally Labour councils are the worst offenders. Birmingham spend £1.125 million on union salaries, Leeds is next, spending £502,095. Leicester spends £494,544, Bolton £390,481, Brighton and Hove £262,016. In London the biggest spender is Lambeth on £281,000, Ealing is on £229,000, Tower Hamlets is on £199,605, Croydon on £182,520.
Among county councils we have Derbyshire spending £320,788.
But there are also some Conservative councils (and Conservative led councils) which hit six figures. Among county councils we see Essex on £117,565. Suffolk gives funding union officials a still higher spending priority – finding £189,741. In Cambridgeshire it’s £151,590. Westminster spends £154,495.
In Barnet the spending is £93,000 while in more frugal Wandsworth it is £22,433.
On a happier note there are several Conservative councils that spend nothing on union officials – Braintree, Castle Point, Chelmsford, Eden, Gloucester, Hambleton, Huntingdonshire, Mid Sussex, Mole Valley, Ribble Valley, Ryedale, Selby, Test Valley, West Oxfordshire, Wokingham and Wyre. That is quite a long list. Congratulations to those councils – they have shown the way.
But just as important is for local authorities to end the “check off” system – that is an arrangement where trade union subscriptions are deducted by the Council’s payroll department on behalf of the union. Trade unions should operate independently – that must include collecting their own subs.